A coalition of global law enforcement agencies and regulatory bodies have taken part in a worldwide crackdown on the illegal online sale of medicines and medical devices.
Led by Interpol with support from authorities including Europol and the US Food and Drug Administration, Operation Pangea X resulted in the arrest of 400 people worldwide and the seizure of potentially dangerous medicines estimated to be worth more than $51 million (€43.27 million).
The global action – which involved 197 police, customs and health regulatory authorities from 123 countries – resulted in the launch of 1,058 investigations, 3,584 website takedowns and the suspension of more than 3,000 online adverts for illicit pharmaceuticals.
Erectile dysfunction pills, anti-psychotic medication, dietary supplements, pain reduction pills, epilepsy medication and nutritional products where among the fake and illicit medicines seized during the action, which took place last week.
As well as prescription drugs, this year’s operation also resulted in the seizure of a number of illicit medical devices estimated to be worth $500,000, including dental equipment and implants, condoms, syringes, medical testing strips and surgical equipment.
In support of the operation, Europol dispatched two analysts who performed checks on entities against the EU law enforcement agency’s databases, as well as a mobile office equipped with a device for forensic support, which was sent to Budapest to conduct on-the-spot checks.
This year, Operation Pangea targeted the growing illicit global trade in synthetic opioids such as fentanyl, which over the past few years has been responsible for a slew of overdose deaths all over the world.
The action resulted in the closure of a number of websites that were dedicated exclusively to the sale of fentanyl, as well as the seizure of large quantities of the drug that had been bought from illicit online pharmacies.
Tim Morris, Interpol’s Executive Director of Police Services, commented: “With more and more people purchasing everyday items including medicines online, criminals are exploiting this trend to make a profit, putting lives at risk in the process.
“The fact that we still see such strong outcomes after 10 years of Pangea operations demonstrates how the online sale of illicit medicines is an ongoing, and ever increasing, challenge for law enforcement and regulatory authorities.”
Beginning in only eight countries in 2008, Operation Pangea has grown considerably over the course of the last decade, and also aims to raise public awareness of the potential dangers associated with buying pharmaceuticals online.
Viggo Elster, Manager for the World Customs Organisation (WCO)’s IPR, Health and Safety Programme, said: “The WCO thanks all the participating customs administrations around the globe for their support, efforts and contribution during the 10th Operation Pangea, leading to the seizure of 25 million potentially dangerous medicines and medical devices.
“The Pangea operation is of high importance to the WCO, particularly for the opportunity it gives for customs, police and other law enforcement authorities to strengthen their cooperation.”