The use of social media and online market places appears to be on the rise to sell illicit medicines worldwide.
Every year Interpol organises Operation PANGEA – a global crackdown on the trade in illicit medicines
Medsafe, which is part of the Ministry of Health, again partnered with New Zealand Customs to participate in Operation PANGEA XI. This is the 11th year Medsafe has been involved. During the course of the operation, Medsafe investigated website domain names selling illicit medicines and reported back to Interpol.
Globally 500 tonnes of medicine were seized, 3671 web links were taken down and 859 arrests made.
In New Zealand, medicines for the treatment of erectile dysfunction are the most commonly detained medicines by Medsafe.
Medsafe’s Compliance Branch Manager, Derek Fitzgerald says our interceptions produced a few interesting finds.
‘For the year to date we detained just under 125 thousand dosage units of erectile dysfunction medication.’
‘Antibiotics are also commonly detained medicines - more than 73 thousand dosage units detained for the year to date. Incorrect and indiscriminate use of antibiotics contributes to the development of superbugs which do not always respond to antibiotics and can result in serious harm and death.’
‘Websites purporting to be in New Zealand, but actually run from elsewhere were reported to Interpol. While those responsible aren’t in New Zealand, it was important to relay that information to Interpol for further action.’
‘Operation PANGEA is a good chance to warn New Zealanders of the dangers of purchasing medicines online from overseas,’ says Mr Fitzgerald.
‘We need to send a message to the operators of these rogue internet sites that New Zealand will not tolerate them taking advantage of New Zealand’s good reputation. Having Interpol’s assistance highlights the importance of global co-operation to tackle a criminal activity that has no respect for borders.’
Mr Fitzgerald says people actively involved in this trade make large quantities of money, often without any concern for the health of those they are reportedly trying to help.
How to keep yourself safe
- Talk to your doctor, nurse practitioner or pharmacist.
- Obtain medicines from legitimate sources within New Zealand.
- Be aware of advice provided on the Medsafe website (for instance Medsafe has recently issued a warning about buying and selling medicines and medical devices on social media).
If you decide to buy online from overseas
- Find out who you are buying from and what you are buying.
- Be aware that websites may not be as legitimate as they seem.
- If a website does not ask for a prescription, it could be a rogue pharmacy and part of a criminal network.
- Be aware that to legally import and possess a prescription medicine in New Zealand you will need the authorisation of a New Zealand registered authorised prescriber (for instance, your general practitioner).
Medicines bought online from overseas are not regulated by Medsafe. They have a high chance of:
- being counterfeit
- containing the wrong amount of active ingredient (too much, too little, none)
- being contaminated with toxic chemicals
- containing undisclosed or dangerous drugs.
Operation Pangea XI was coordinated by INTERPOL, with the World Customs Organization (WCO), the Permanent Forum on International Pharmaceutical Crime (PFIPC), the Heads of
Medicines Agencies Working Group of Enforcement Officers (WGEO), the Pharmaceutical Security Institute (PSI), Europol, and private sector companies including electronic payment service providers.
New Zealand was one of 116 countries that participated in Operation PANGEA XI this year.
For more information, go to the Interpol website.