Nine million packages of illegally sold medicines and medical devices seized in Operation Pangea

09 June 2021

This year’s global Interpol action Operation Pangea focused particularly on the illegal sale of medicines and medical devices related to COVID-19. In Denmark, the Danish Medicines Agency identified and reported 46 websites engaged in illicit sale of medicines and medical devices.

According to Interpol, Operation Pangea XIV resulted in the seizure of a total of nine million packages of illegal medicines or medical devices. This year’s operation especially reported a rise in COVID-related products, e.g. masks and COVID-19 test kits but reported no illegal sale of COVID-19 vaccines.

The illicit sale of medicines involves much the same products as previous years with the confiscation of especially erectile dysfunction medicines, sleeping pills/sedative medications and painkillers. The seizure of products is estimated to be worth more than USD 23 million, according to Interpol. Operation Pangea led to the closedown of more than 113,000 websites that sold products illegally and reported a general rise in the number of illegal online marketplaces including distributors using social media compared to the year before.

46 websites reported in Denmark

In Denmark, the Danish Medicines Agency identified 30 websites selling medicines illegally and 16 websites selling medical devices illegally. Among the products sold from these websites were illegal erectile dysfunction medicines and COVID-19 antigen testing kits marketed as self-tests despite the fact that these tests are manufactured and authorised for professional use only. The 46 websites were reported to Interpol for further investigation and potential closure.

Jeanne Majland, Head of Division at the Danish Medicines Agency, is well pleased with this year’s results:

“There is generally a strong global focus on fighting the illegal sale of medicines, and this year we have of course been particularly concerned with preventing perpetrators from selling fake COVID-19 vaccines and other COVID-19-related products”, said Jeanne Majland.

She stresses that we haven’t seen any illegal vaccines in Denmark yet:

“Our vaccination system is very safe. The system created for the purpose involves very few participants, which ensures control and distribution. Consequently, the public can feel absolutely safe about the vaccines offered by the authorities. Anyone who is offered a COVID-19 vaccine from other sources than those authorised by the authorities should quite simply turn that offer down,” said Jeanne Majland.   

Call for reporting suspected illegal online sale

The Danish Medicines Agency encourages everyone who suspects that vaccines, other medicines or medical devices are being sold illegally to report it so that the agency can investigate the activities and warn relevant authorities in other countries. To keep the public as informed as possible about safe online shopping, the Danish Medicines Agency and the Danish Customs Agency worked together during Operation Pangea to inform individuals whose parcels were selected for inspection.

“Sadly, we cannot fight all of the illegal sale of medicines or seize every illegal parcel dispatched to Denmark. That’s why it is essential that people have the information they need to buy medicines and medical devices safely on the internet,” explains Head of Division Jeanne Majland.

Facts about Operation Pangea

Operation Pangea is an annually recurring global action against illegal online sale of medicines and medical devices.

It aims also to make consumers aware of the risks associated with buying medicines and medical devices online.

The Danish operation is coordinated between the Danish Customs Agency, the Danish Medicines Agency, the Danish Veterinary and Food Administration, the Danish Tax Agency, the Danish Safety Technology Authority and the Police.

This year, Operation Pangea XIV took place from 18 to 25 May and focused especially on combating illegal sale of COVID-19-related products.

As part of the operation, the authorities conducted a campaign aiming to inform the public about the rules and risks of buying medicines and medical devices online. Compared to last year, twice as many countries ran campaigns on safe online shopping.

Good advice when buying medicine online:

  • Only buy medicines from a pharmacy or an online retailer with the EU logo for online sale of medicines.
  • Always contact your doctor if you think you need treatment with a prescription-only medicine.
  • Taking illegal medicines could put your health in danger, which is why you should always buy medicines from a pharmacy or other authorised retailer.
  • Remember that websites and products may look extremely professional, which can make it difficult to spot an illegal retailer.

Good advice when buying medical devices online:

  • Verify that the medical device bears the CE marking.
  • Always follow the instructions for use.
  • Verify that the labelling and instructions for use are in Danish. This is a requirement. (During the pandemic, the Danish Medicines Agency has exempted medical gloves and face masks from Danish labelling provided the instructions for use are available in other Scandinavian languages or English).
  • COVID-19 self-test kits must be clearly labelled for this particular purpose, and the CE marking must be accompanied by a four-digit suffix.

More information about buying medicines and medical devices online is available here:

Buying medicines on the internet

Pharmacies selling medicines legally online

Authorised retailers selling medicines online

How to report suspected illegal activities with medicines or medical devices