Over 55k of illicit online drugs seized

A sniffer dog with handler searching a parcel depot at Belfast Docks.

Tens of thousands of illegally imported potentially life threatening medicines bound for Northern Ireland addresses have been seized as part of a worldwide crackdown.

Thursday, 04 October 2012
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Operation Pangea V targeted 100 countries in a bid to disrupt the organised crime networks behind the illegal sale of medicine.

The crackdown, which resulted in 79 arrests internationally, ran from 25 September - 2 October.

It involved representatives from almost 200 agencies across the globe including the PSNI, the UK Border Force and Interpol.

Over 55,000 benzodiazepines, erectile dysfunction, and pain relief medicines as well as unidentified psychoactive substances were seized en route to postal addresses across the region.

Internationally, 3.7million unauthorised medicines worth an estimated £6.5million were uncovered.

Over 18,000 websites identified as being engaged in illegal activity were also shut down.

Over 133,000 packages were inspected by regulators and customs authorities - 6,740 of those were seized.

Professor Mike Mawhinney is head of the Department of Health's Medicines Regulatory Group.

He said that of the over 100 drugs related deaths recorded last year, more than 30 were associated with prescription drugs.

"I think it's important to note that all these medicines we have seized here are from the unregulated market."

Prof Mawhinney told UTV that this meant they had not been approved by a GP or pharmacist.

"When individuals are purchasing these they have no idea from which source they have come - that would mean they don't know where they are produced or what's in them."

The Health Minister Edwin Poots revealed the figures on Thursday to raise awareness of the significant health risks associated with buying medicines online.

"The risk to the public due to illegal or counterfeit medicines cannot be understated. It is an issue I take very seriously and that is why my Department is committed to taking all possible steps to stop the supply of illegal medicines over the internet.

"This issue is not something which my Department can tackle in isolation. Operation Pangea V has involved the Police, the UK Border Force and officers from my Department and I thank them for their efforts," the minister added.

A hard hitting publicity campaign has begun, highlighting the dangers of buying medicines on the internet.

He said: "This campaign shows the stark reality of buying medicines online. The message is clear - it could cost you your life."