Medsafe highlights dangers of online medicines

Media release

16 June 2016

Medsafe is reminding New Zealanders of the dangers of purchasing medicines online from overseas, following a global week of action led by INTERPOL.

The authority has recently participated with NZ Customs in the annual international initiative known as Operation Pangea, to highlight the illicit trade in medicines around the world.

As a matter of course, Medsafe receives packages from NZ Customs that are suspected to contain medicines, with thousands of interceptions each year being referred to Medsafe for assessment.

As a result of Operation PANGEA IX, 173 packages were held requiring further investigation, slightly less than last year.

These parcels originated from 31 different countries around the world (29 last year) and were stopped because they contained prescription medicines, weren’t labelled or were known to contain undeclared or hidden ingredients. The most common sources of these products were India (84), China (14) and United Kingdom (14).

Medicines for the treatment of erectile dysfunction were the most common products examined by Medsafe (amounting to 3652 individual tablets). Medicines for the treatment of infections, heart disease and pain relief were the next most prevalent.

Manager of Medsafe Compliance, Derek Fitzgerald, says, ‘It is very important for anyone intending to buy prescription medicines via the internet to consult their doctor, who can advise on potential side effects, interactions with other medicines and appropriate dosage.

‘Ensuring a prescription medicine is suitable for a person requires appropriate consideration by a qualified healthcare professional as these medicines are potent and the conditions they treat require careful diagnosis and monitoring.

‘It is important to stress that although a website may seem to be legitimate and be established in a well-regulated country, this may not be the case.

‘Consumers should be aware that the organisation behind a convincing looking website may be more interested in making money at their expense rather than providing a quality healthcare product.

‘Medicines purchased online present a risk to consumers because their quality, safety and effectiveness can’t be guaranteed and they may not be appropriate for the intended recipient.’

Prescription medicines are referred to Medsafe by NZ Customs to ensure compliance with New Zealand law. Most prescription medicines Medsafe detains are held until the person importing them provides a valid authorisation from their doctor indicating that it is acceptable for them to use the medicine. If this does not occur they are destroyed.

Background on Operation PANGEA

Operation PANGEA IX International Internet Week of Action led by INTERPOL (May 30 – June 7) feeds data from the ongoing New Zealand border control programme into the worldwide effort aimed at detecting illegal trade in medicines.

Operation PANGEA seeks to disrupt criminal networks trading in illicit, counterfeit and poor quality medicines through working with international and national enforcement bodies and with internet and payment system providers.

New Zealand was one of 103 countries that participated this year.

For more information, see Online sale of fake medicines and products targeted in INTERPOL operation on the INTERPOL website.

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