The International Criminal Police Organisation Interpol has just completed a week-long global bust. Operation Pangea V was the largest yet, targeting illegal online pharmacies in 100 countries.
The anti-pharmaceutical crime chief at Interpol has a mountain of data to process.
Aline Plançon said: “Over 20,000 illicit pharmacies have been shut down, as well as seizure of over 3,002,000 medicines. Over 80 investigations [are] ongoing and 70 persons [were] arrested. Organised criminals are definitely part of these illicit sales online and they are transnational people, well organised over the continents.”
This year Pangea involved 147 agencies around the world, including customs forces, health regulators and private sector companies. In the blitz against fake drug makers, 130,000 packages were inspected, and many analysed. Counterfeit medicines usually contain the wrong amount of active ingredient, or ingredients not active for what they say they are for. They can contain toxins like rat poison.
Arthiqur Rahman Meah, at the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) in the UK, said: “If people saw the filthy conditions in which these medicines were made, stored or transported, then they certainly would not touch them.”
Customers do not see the dangers, only the false attraction of a lower price tag.
Around 10% of Europeans admit that they order medicine online. But nine out of ten of these outlets are operating outside the law.
In Lyon, home to both Interpol and Euronews, we asked a young mother if she was aware of the dangers. She was unworried, saying she couldn’t get what she wanted from pharmacies in France.
She said: “I can’t see the difference between what I bought online and the equivalent I bought in a pharmacy in another country.”
Claire has been lucky so far. Others are not.
Interpol presents a case of a customer who gambled and lost; he did not have medical insurance and purchased cheap blood medication on line. But it contained double the stated and required active ingredient. It resulted in a heart attack which killed him – at age 35.