International operation combats the online supply of counterfeit and illegal medicines

20 November 2009

Brussels, 20 November 2009

International operation combats the online supply of counterfeit and illegal medicines

An international week of action targeting the sale of counterfeit and illegal medicines over the internet has highlighted the dangers of buying medicines online.

Due to the ever-increasing number of websites selling dangerous and illegal medicines, INTERPOL in cooperation with the World Customs Organization (WCO) and the World Health Organization’s (WHO) International Medical Products Anti-Counterfeiting Taskforce (IMPACT), took the lead in coordinating Operation Pangea II this week.

National medicines regulators, Police and Customs collaborated extensively in this global campaign.

Twenty-four countries participated in the operation, with Customs administrations using CENcomm – the WCO’s secure communication tool – to exchange information and intelligence.

The operation focused on the three principle components of an illegal website: the Internet Service Provider (ISP); payment systems; and the mail delivery service.

Almost 17000 packages were inspected, resulting in the seizure of 995 packages and some 166 540 pills. Action was carried out at 34 postal hubs, and 22 individuals are under investigation. A total of 751 websites were identified as suspicious, of which 72 were closed down, and adverts for fake medicines removed from 11 websites.

WCO Secretary General, Kunio Mikuriya, said, "Trade trends clearly indicate an alarming increase in counterfeit medicines and other fake products that endanger consumer health and safety often with serious consequences for the end user”. He added, “ The success of Operation Pangea II is evident in the number of seizures of postal and express mail items linked to internet shopping that contained dangerous products”.

The achievements of this international operation led Mr. Mikuriya to conclude, "I am confident that the excellent cooperation and coordination among law enforcement officials and other interested parties before and during this operation is a stepping stone towards more and better coordinated border management, one of the key building blocks identified in the WCO’s Customs in the 21st Century strategic policy”.

The public will be advised through global awareness campaigns that purchasing medicines from unregulated websites significantly increases the risk of being supplied with counterfeit, sub-standard and dangerous products.