Medsafe highlights the dangers of purchasing medicines over the internet

Media release

18 June 2015

Medsafe says New Zealanders who choose to buy medicines online from overseas are continuing to run risks from substandard, illegal, or counterfeit medicines.

The authority has again been part of a joint local and international operation with Customs on such items crossing the border.

Medsafe Manager of Compliance Management, Derek Fitzgerald, says medicines purchased online are risky because quality, safety and effectiveness can’t be guaranteed.

Medsafe and Customs participated in the week-long Operation PANGEA VIII International Internet Week of Action led by INTERPOL (June 9–16) which 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. This is the eighth time New Zealand authorities have participated.

Customs targets all incoming international mail suspected to contain medicines, and thousands of interceptions are referred to Medsafe each year.

As a result of Operation PANGEA VIII, 181 packages were held requiring further investigation, 67 less than the number investigated last year 248.

These parcels originated from 29 different countries around the world (32 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 (103), United States (24) and China (20).

Mr Fitzgerald says medicines for the treatment of erectile dysfunction were the most prevalent products examined by Medsafe (amounting to 3412 individual tablets). Medicines for insomnia, treatment of infections, mental health and pain were the next most prevalent. Only four parcels contained a counterfeit or fake product (medicines for the treatment of erectile dysfunction) – two more than last year.

Medsafe strongly encourages 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.

‘Prescription medicines are potent substances and as such should only be used following a consultation with a doctor.

‘Consumers considering buying any type of medicine over the internet should be aware that, even though a website may appear to be legitimate, appear to be established in a well-regulated country and appears to be offering well-known medicines, these impressions may not be true,’ according to Mr Fitzgerald.

Prescription medicines are referred to Medsafe by Customs to ensure compliance with New Zealand law. Most prescription medicines Medsafe detains are held until the person importing them provides a valid doctor’s prescription – if this does not occur they are destroyed.

For further information, contact Kevin McCarthy, senior media advisor, Ministry of Health, 021 832 459, or Customs media on 021 823 708.

Further background

Operation Pangea VIII was coordinated by INTERPOL, with the World Customs Organization (WCO), the Permanent Forum of International Pharmaceutical Crime (PFIPC), the Heads of Medicines Agencies Working Group of Enforcement Officers (WGEO), the Pharmaceutical Security Institute (PSI), Europol, and supported by the Center for Safe Internet Pharmacies (CSIP) and private sector companies including LegitScript, Google, Mastercard, Visa, American Express and PayPal.

New Zealand was one of 115 countries that participated in Operation PANGEA VIII this year.

For more information, see the Interpol website.

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