Over 285,000 medicines and medical devices seized across UK in global action


Medicines and medical devices worth over £850,000, totaling more than 285,000 items, have been seized by officers from the UK’s Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) as part of of a global operation to tackle the illegal sale of medical products, with UK seizures estimated at around 9% of the global total.

In the UK, 48 social media accounts illegally offering to supply drugs have also been shut down. Officers from the MHRA Criminal Enforcement Unit searched five premises in the West Midlands and London, and 2 suspects were arrested.

During the global week of action coordinated by Interpol, which ran from June 23-30, this year’s Operation Pangea saw countries around the world join forces to seize non-compliant medical products. The operation also involved the arrest of several suspected organized criminals.

In the UK, antidepressants, erectile dysfunction tablets, painkillers, anabolic steroids and slimming pills were among the drugs seized.

Andy Morling, Deputy Director (Criminal Enforcement) at the MHRA, said:

Not only are criminals selling drugs and medical devices illegally breaking the law, they don’t care about your health either. Unlicensed drugs and non-compliant medical devices pose a serious risk to public health because their safety and effectiveness may be compromised.

This operation shows what can be achieved when national and global efforts come together to combat this type of crime. The MHRA Crime Unit will continue to work closely with our international partners and border forces to prevent unauthorized medicines and non-compliant medical devices from entering the UK, and to bring to justice the criminals behind this illegal trade.

The MHRA will follow the week of action with a detailed analysis of the global results to better understand the current and emerging criminal threat. This work includes identifying “hot spot” exporting countries, preferred high-risk drugs traded in informal markets, and the ever-changing business models of criminals around the world seeking to take advantage of the public.

The MHRA is working to educate its #FakeMeds Website which encourages people in the UK who choose to buy medicines online to take steps to ensure they buy from safe and legitimate sources. The campaign highlights the dangers of fake medicines sold online and the negative health effects that taking them can have. It also encourages people to report suspicious offers and any side effects experienced at Yellow card scheme.

MHRA safety advice when buying medicines:

Be careful when buying drugs online.

Medicines and medical devices are not ordinary consumer goods and their sale and supply are tightly controlled. Websites operating outside the legal supply chain may seem tempting, for example, a prescription drug offered without a prescription. These sites not only break the law, but they also put your health at risk.

Do not self-prescribe.

Self-diagnosis and self-medication can be very dangerous. If you have any concerns about your health, see your GP, get a correct diagnosis and if you are prescribed medication, buy it from a legitimate source.

Visit the #FakeMeds website tools and resources to help people buy drugs or medical devices safely online.


Notes to editors

  • Read the Interpol press release: “$11 Million in Illicit Drugs Seized in Global INTERPOL Operation”
  • Operation Pangea is an international initiative to target the illegal trade in medical products on the Internet. It was launched by the MHRA in April 2006 and began as the UK Internet Day of Action (IDA). The annual operation is now the largest online crackdown of its kind and is coordinated by INTERPOL, in collaboration with the World Customs Organization (WCO), the Permanent Forum on International Pharmaceutical Crime (PFIPC), the Working Group of Heads of Agencies of Enforcement Officers (WGEO), Europol and the Pharmaceutical Security Institute (PSI), and supported by the Center for Safe Internet Pharmacies (CSIP) and private sector companies.

  • The #FakeMeds campaign is a public health campaign that aims to reduce the harm caused by the online purchase of counterfeit, unlicensed or counterfeit medical products. The #FakeMeds campaign site gives practical steps the public can follow when buying medical products online safely. This includes buying from reputable sources and which product brands to look for. Previous phases of the campaign have focused on fake erectile dysfunction (ED) drugs, diet pills and fake STI self-test kits. Other Tips and Tricks for Safely Buying Medicines and Medical Products Online. Follow #FakeMeds on Twitter, Facebook and instagram.
  • The MHRA Yellow card scheme helps the MHRA monitor the safety of all healthcare products in the UK to ensure they are safe enough for patients and those who use them. Members of the public can report suspicious offers and any side effects through the Yellow Card website.

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