Operation PANGEA 2022: 500 packages seized in the customs and 35 websites reported to the police for illegal trading in pharmaceuticals
The last days of June saw the roll out of the 2022 version of the Interpol-managed Operation Pangea XV – a global initiative targeted illegal trade with medicines and medical devices. The Danish Medicines Agency managed the operation in Denmark jointly with the Customs Agency and the police.
Buying illicit medicine online can pose a health hazard and could be potentially life threatening. If you buy medicines and medical devices outside of the established system, you are gambling with your health since neither production, content nor effect is guaranteed for medicines and medical devices sold via social media or in webshops without a licence to trade in these products. Nevertheless, illegal trade in medicines and medicinal devices is a persistent issue at global level and in Denmark.
The Danish Medicines Agency cooperates closely with the Danish Customs Agency and together the two agencies regularly perform control operations of illegal shipments throughout the year. They also make an extraordinary effort in connection with the annually recurring Operation Pangea which is conducted simultaneously in 94 countries all over the world and is managed by Interpol. The objective of the Danish operation this year was to get an overview of the current threat landscape; which types of medicines and medical devices enter this country, which countries do they come from, and which quantities are being identified in the customs.
This year, the operation took place in the period from 23 to 30 June and was conducted for one part at the International Post Center where about 500 pharmaceutical packages from 27 countries were taken out for control. For another part, the Danish Medicines Agency did a thorough search of the internet to identify illegal webshops targeting their sales at Danish customers without authorization.
Controlled medicines and medicinal devices
Of 501 controlled shipments 58 packages were submitted for further investigation and, if relevant, analysis. These 58 packages comprised a total of 8,000 dosages of medicines contained in tablets, capsules or vials. The substances seized included antibiotics and substances against depression and metabolic disorders, among others, although these were far outnumbered by medicines designed to treat impotence and sleep disorders. In addition to this, the Danish Customs Agency identified 32 shipments holding illicit doping agents and 31 instances of illegal euphoriants. All of these cases have been passed on to the police. The remaining shipments have been released to the recipients together with information about how to take the proper precautions when buying online medicines and medical devices as a consumer.
Webshops reported to the police
Based on its search of the web, the Danish Medicines Agency has identified 35 webshops trading medicines and medical devices illegally. All of these have been reported to the Special Crime Unit under the Danish police with a request to investigate them and close them down, if relevant. None of these webshops display the compulsory green or blue EU logo which demonstrates that the shop is authorized to sell medicine for human use (the green logo) or for animal use (the blue logo).
Most of these webshops sell erectile dysfunction medicines featuring names such as ‘Generic Viagra’, ‘Viagra Super Active’, ‘Viagra Professional’, ‘Generic Cialis’ and ‘Cialis Super Active’. There are no approved medicines by these names. Other erectile dysfunction medicines are sold such as ‘Kamagra Oral Jelly’, ‘Fildena’ and ‘Tadalista’ although none of these have been approved for sale in Denmark and consequently selling them to Danish consumers is illegal. A single of the webshops reported to the police advertise that they sell the euphoriant Ecstasy (MDMA).
The international operation
In addition to the reports made to the Danish police about illegal websites and the medicines and illegal substances seized by the customs, the results of the Danish part of Operation Pangea XV have been submitted to Interpol. As part of the overall operation which embraces 42 countries, Interpol seized 8329 packages with illegal medicines and medicinal devices of which about 40 percent contained erectile dysfunction medicines. Interpol also investigated trade with illegal medicines and medicinal devices through social media and found that most of the illegal trade takes place through Facebook, Instagram and TikTok.
SoMe trading is a point of particular interest for the Danish Medicines Agency.
“We are witnessing an increasing volume of illicit trading through social media involving in particular performance enhancers, commonly known as ‘study drugs’, and other medicines and medicinal devices such as illicit slimming products and erectile dysfunction medicines. This is a hazardous trend because of the absolute non-existence of controls and safety precautions for medicines and medicinal devices sold in this manner. Prescription medicine must always be prescribed by your own doctor, and if you buy medicines and medical devices online you should always buy it from a webshop advertising the green or the blue EU logo. No medicines and medicinal devices are sold legally through social media,” explains Karen Juul Jensen, chief consultant with the Danish Medicines Agency,
adding that this year's Operation Pangea XV point to the “usual suspects”.
“Fortunately there are no surprises, which means that there are no new and unexpected threats. The operation clearly shows, however, that regular controls are still required. We also need to continue to make the Danish population aware of the health hazards you are facing if you buy illegal medicine online – besides breaking the law.”
Also the Danish Customs Agency emphasizes that the operation supports the need to maintain a regime of regular controls for the sake of patient safety;
“Together with the Danish Medicines Agency we target illegal attempts to import medicines and medicinal devices from countries outside the European Union. The Pangea Operations provide us with important insight into the smuggling patterns at national and also international levels, which helps us improve our customs controls at the general level. In view of the increasing volume of online trading, it is essential that consumers pay attention to what they buy outside the EU. If you buy illicit medicines and medical devices the consequences may not only result in customs duties and VAT to be paid but the medicines may also present an actual health hazard,” says Michael Lund, director of controls with the Danish Customs Agency.
Facts about Operation Pangea
Operation Pangea is an annually recurring global operation targeting illegal sale of medicines and medical devices. The objectives of the operation, which is coordinated by Interpol, are to:
- Combat the illegal sale of medicines and medicinal devices
- Control shipments comprising illegally entered medicines and medicinal devices
- Raise awareness of the potential risks of buying medicines and medicinal devices from illegal online distributors
- Intensify the collaboration between the government authorities of the participating countries.
This year's operation, Operation Pangea XV, took place in the period from 23 to 30 June 2022 with 42 countries making active contributions.
In Denmark, the operation was coordinated by the Danish Medicines Agency with active participation by the Danish Customs Agency, the police/the Special Crime Unit and the Danish Veterinary and Food Administration. The Danish part of the entire operation comprised: Customs control in collaboration with the Danish Customs Agency at the International Post Center at Copenhagen Airport Reporting to Interpol of the number of shipments seized
- Internet searches with the purpose of identifying webshops/websites trading illegally in medicines and medicinal devices Reporting these to the police/Special Crime Unit to investigate and, if possible, close these webshops/websites and report them to Interpol.
- An awareness campaign in the form of information material which was enclosed with the released shipments, a Go Card campaign in weeks 29-30 providing information about medicines and medicinal devices, and the awareness campaign at the SoMe platforms operated by the Danish Medicines Agency about safe trading in medicines and medicinal devices.
Interpol’s press release announcing the global results of the operation: https://www.interpol.int/News-and-Events/News/2022/USD-11-million-in-illicit-medicines-seized-in-global-INTERPOL-operation
Good advice (in Danish) on how to buy medicines and medicinal devices safely online: koeb-og-salg-af-medicin-paa-internettet