Pharmaceutical crime is a major global public health problem, with the trade in counterfeit and illegal health products affecting all countries through source, transit or destination points. Patients around the world are endangering their health and even their lives by unknowingly consuming fake and unregulated medical products, or products that have been altered, diverted, poorly preserved or have expired. For the 14th year in a row, the National Coordination Center for Intellectual Property Rights (IPR Center) joined 94 Interpol member states in a coordinated crackdown on illegal online pharmacies dubbed “Operation Pangea XV,” June 23-30. The operation yielded more than 7,800 seizures of illegal and counterfeit drugs, totaling more than three million individual units for $11 million.
“Two decades of experience has shown that criminals will stop at nothing to make a profit, including selling counterfeit drugs and medical devices, despite the dangers they pose,” said Jim Mancuso, director of the IPR Center. “The United States is committed to working closely with our international law enforcement partners and the private sector to keep counterfeit drugs and medical devices out of the global supply chain, and to eliminate transnational criminal organizations that profit from these scams. 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.”
“Trading counterfeit or illegal drugs online may seem like a minor offense, but the consequences for victims are potentially life-threatening,” said Interpol Secretary General Jürgen Stock. “The illicit supply chains and business models behind the counterfeit drug trade are inherently international, meaning law enforcement agencies must work together across borders to effectively protect consumers.”
Every day, advertisements for drugs penetrate the internet, posted on social media networks or other websites. However, behind this marketing are often fraudulent products that harm rather than cure consumers’ health.
The global trade in illicit drugs was valued at $4.4 billion in 2016 – attracting the involvement or organized crime groups around the world.
During the week-long operation, law enforcement:
- Over 4,000 web links examined, primarily from social media platforms and messaging apps;
- Shut down or remove more than 4,000 web links with advertisements for illegal products;
- Inspected nearly 3,000 parcels and 280 mail hubs at airports, borders and mail distribution or freight mail centers; and
- More than 600 new investigations have been opened and more than 200 search warrants have been issued.
While the results are still coming in, enforcement actions have already disrupted the activities of at least 36 organized crime groups.
Nearly half (48 percent) of the packages inspected by police during the operation were found to contain illegal or counterfeit drugs.
Fake or unauthorized erectile dysfunction drugs accounted for at least 40 percent of all seized products. Law enforcement officers in Australia, Argentina, Malaysia and the United States also seized more than 317,000 unauthorized COVID-19 test kits. The US seizures alone are estimated at nearly $3 million.
The trade in illegal medicines extends far beyond national borders. Often, products are manufactured in one country and shipped to another, while advertisements for the drugs are hosted on websites in other countries.
In Malaysia alone, law enforcement identified more than 2,000 websites that sell or advertise counterfeit or restricted drugs.
Social media networks and messaging apps are also used to promote counterfeit or illegal drugs, with Operation Pangea XV identifying more than 1,200 such ads across all major platforms.
As part of Operation Pangea XV, Interpol had the support of Europol, the World Customs Organisation, the container control program of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, health regulators and the Pharmaceutical Security Institute.
Interpol’s Illicit Goods and Global Health program works to dismantle criminal networks and reduce the risk that fake and illegal drugs pose to public health.
Since 2008, Operation Pangea has been fighting the global trade in counterfeit medicines and illegal health products marketed and sold online. Pangea also wants to make the public aware of the risks associated with buying drugs from unregulated websites.
About the IPR Center
For more than two decades, the IPR Center, in conjunction with its public-private partners, has spearheaded the government’s response to fight global intellectual property theft and enforce intellectual property violations. The center was established to combat global intellectual property theft – and therefore plays a key role in monitoring the sale and distribution of counterfeit goods on websites, social media and the dark web.
Read more at ICE