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Organized Crime Groups Targeted in Global Operation Against Illicit Medicines

The global trade in illicit pharmaceuticals is a vast and lucrative crime area – valued at USD 4.4 billion – which attracts the involvement of organized crime groups around the world.

Over just one week (June 23-30), 94 INTERPOL member countries representing every continent launched a coordinated crackdown on illicit online pharmacies in Operation Pangea XV.

Globally, law enforcement made more than 7,800 seizures of illicit and misbranded medicines and healthcare products, totaling more than 3 million individual units. The week-long action resulted in more than 4,000 web links being investigated, mainly from social media platforms and messaging apps. Law enforcement shut down or removed the web links containing adverts for illicit products. Meanwhile, nearly 3,000 packages were inspected at postal hubs at airports, borders and mail distribution or cargo mail centers. As a result, law enforcement have opened more than 600 new investigations and issued more than 200 search warrants. While results are still coming in from countries, enforcement actions have already disrupted the activities of at least 36 organized crime groups.

“Selling counterfeit or illicit medicines online may seem like a low-level 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 medicine trade are inherently international, meaning that law enforcement has to work together across borders in order to effectively protect consumers.”

Nearly half (48 per cent) of the packages inspected by law enforcement during the operation were found to contain either illicit or falsified medicines.Counterfeit or unauthorized erectile dysfunction medicines comprised roughly 40 per cent of all products seized. Law enforcement in Australia, Argentina, Malaysia and the United States also seized more than 317,000 unauthorized COVID-19 test kits. The U.S. seizures alone are estimated to be worth nearly USD 3 million.

The trade in illicit medicines extends far beyond any one country’s borders and is a significant global threat. Often, products are manufactured in one country and shipped to another, while advertisements for the medicines are hosted on websites based in many different countries.

In Malaysia, law enforcement identified more than 2,000 websites selling or advertising counterfeit or illegally-obtained pharmaceuticals.

Social media networks and messaging apps are also used to advertise counterfeit and illicit medicines, with Operation Pangea XV identifying more than 1,200 such ads across all major platforms.

“Two decades worth of experience has shown criminals will stop at nothing to make a profit, including selling counterfeit pharmaceuticals and medical devices despite dangers they cause,” said Jim Mancuso, Director of the National Intellectual Property Rights Coordination Center in the United States. “The U.S. is committed to working closely with our international law enforcement partners and the private sector to keep counterfeit pharmaceuticals and medical devices out of the global supply chain, as well as taking down transnational criminal organizations who 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.” 

Within the framework of Operation Pangea XV, INTERPOL was supported by Europol, the UNODC-WCO Container Control Program, health regulatory agencies and the Pharmaceutical Security Institute.

Read more at INTERPOL

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The Government Technology & Services Coalition's Homeland Security Today (HSToday) is the premier news and information resource for the homeland security community, dedicated to elevating the discussions and insights that can support a safe and secure nation. A non-profit magazine and media platform, HSToday provides readers with the whole story, placing facts and comments in context to inform debate and drive realistic solutions to some of the nation’s most vexing security challenges.

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