The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) yesterday led an international operation, codenamed Pangea, in conjunction with INTERPOL and eight regulatory agencies worldwide to tackle the illegal sale and supply of medicines sold over the Internet. MHRA investigators carried out co-ordinated visits to a number of UK premises believed to be connected with Internet sites illegally selling and supplying unlicensed or prescription-only medicines.
MHRA investigators visited 12 residential and commercial addresses in the UK relating to seven internet sites believed to be selling unlicensed medicines such as Benzylpiperazine (BZP) illegal highs and Kamagra (used for male impotence) or prescription-only medicines claiming to treat conditions such as diabetes, impotency, obesity, hair loss and male breast growth as a side effect from bodybuilding steroid abuse. Yesterday’s visits were conducted in Highgate, Muswell Hill and Wembley (London), Peterborough, Bournemouth, Ramsgate and Canterbury (Kent), Greenford (Middlesex) and Kingston (Surrey). The police accompanied the MHRA investigators on some of the visits.
MHRA investigators seized over a thousand packs of unlicensed medicines, a number of computers and related documentation. In addition, all of the UK website Internet Service Providers (ISPs) have been contacted to close down the infringing websites and in one case to seek compliance by removing the illegal products.
Danny Lee-Frost, Head of Operations at the MHRA said, “People can be at considerable risk if they buy medicines from illegal websites. A medicine bought in this way has no guarantee that it is safe or that it is effective and can in fact be harmful. Yesterday’s operation demonstrates our continued commitment to safeguard public health and highlights the leading role we play internationally in getting our European and international counterparts to tackle this global issue on the same day as us. Our action in the UK should serve as a stark warning to those who are engaged in any way with supplying medicines illegally. Our messages are simple – do not buy prescription-only medicines over the internet without a prescription and if you are illegally selling or supplying medicines, we will use all appropriate measures available to stop you, including prosecution and confiscation.”
Notes to Editor
- The public is advised that they should only take prescription-only medicines after an appropriate consultation with their GP. Only healthcare professionals can take into account risks and benefits associated with every medicine.
- Tackling the illegal sale and supply of medicines over the Internet is a priority for the MHRA. There are currently 52 live investigations that have an internet connection where medicines legislation has been potentially breached. 10 such cases are currently with lawyers pending prosecution. The MHRA undertakes covert surveillance and uses other intelligence tools at its disposal to monitor websites and take action as necessary.
- Operation Pangea has been co-ordinated by the Permanent Forum on International Pharmaceutical Crime, INTERPOL and the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) International Medical Products Anti-Counterfeiting Taskforce (IMPACT). It is the first time that action has been taken on an international scale with participating countries including Canada, Germany, Ireland, Israel, New Zealand, Singapore, Switzerland, the UK and the USA.
- If an individual is convicted of offences under the Medicines Act 1968, they can be sentenced to a maximum of two years imprisonment and/or an unlimited fine. Where appropriate the MHRA will use the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 to determine whether or not benefits were accrued through criminal activity and will recoup illicit earnings if the individual is found guilty. In cases involving counterfeit medicines, the MHRA will use the Fraud Act or Trade Marks Act which both carry a maximum of 10 years imprisonment.
- The MHRA is the government agency responsible for ensuring that medicines and medical devices work, and are acceptably safe. No product is risk-free. Underpinning all our work lie robust and fact-based judgements to ensure that the benefits to patients and the public justify the risks. We keep watch over medicines and devices, and take any necessary action to protect the public promptly if there is a problem. We encourage everyone –the public and healthcare professionals as well as the industry – to tell us about any problems with a medicine or medical device, so that we can investigate and take any necessary action.