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26 July 2022Big PharmaStaff writer

Major Interpol operation makes 7,800 seizures

Operation Pangea targeted illicit online pharmacies in 94 countries | erectile dysfunction medicines among items seized

Fake COVID-19 tests and counterfeit or unauthorised erectile dysfunction medicines were among the items seized as part of Interpol’s annual Operation Pangea.

Last week, Interpol announced that as part of Operation Pangea XV—a coordinated crackdown on illicit online pharmacies by 94 Interpol member countries—law enforcement had made more than 7,800 seizures of illicit and misbranded medicines and healthcare products, totalling more than three million individual units

Additionally, during the week of 23-30 June, law enforcement investigated more than 4,000 web links, mainly from social media platforms and messaging apps and shut down or removed more than 4,000 web links containing adverts for illicit products.

In Malaysia, law enforcement identified more than 2,000 websites selling or advertising counterfeit or illegally obtained pharmaceuticals.

Operation Pangea also identified more than 1,200 counterfeit and illicit medicine advertisements across social media networks and messaging apps.

Nearly 3,000 packages and 280 postal hubs were inspected at airports, borders and mail distribution or cargo mail centres. Approximately half of the packages were found to contain either illicit or falsified medicines.

Counterfeit or unauthorised erectile dysfunction medicines comprised approximately 40% of all products seized. Meanwhile, law enforcement in Australia, Argentina, Malaysia and the US seized more than 317,000 unauthorized COVID-19 test kits. According to Interpol, the US seizures alone are estimated to be worth nearly $3 million.

“Selling counterfeit or illicit medicines online may seem like a low-level offence, but the consequences for victims are potentially life-threatening,” said Interpol secretary general Jürgen Stock.

Stock added: “The illicit supply chains and business models behind the counterfeit medicine trade are inherently international, meaning that law enforcement has to work together across borders in order to effectively protect consumers.”

Law enforcement also opened more than 600 new investigations and issued more than 200 search warrants. Results are still coming in from countries, but Interpol has reported that enforcement actions have already disrupted the activities of at least 36 organised crime groups.

Jim Mancuso, director of the National Intellectual Property Rights Coordination Center in the US, said: “Two decades worth of experience has shown criminals will stop at nothing to make a profit, including selling counterfeit pharmaceuticals and medical devices despite dangers they cause.”

He added: “The results of Operation Pangea XV are a warning to transnational criminal organizations that law enforcement agencies around the world will do whatever it takes to protect public health and safety.”

Interpol was supported by Europol, the UNODC-WCO Container Control Programme, health regulatory agencies and the Pharmaceutical Security Institute.

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