Global operation identifies 34,000 falsifed coronavirus medicines

Operation Pangea has revealed a large number of falsified coronavirus treatments, while the MHRA has seized 871,616 doses of other unlicensed medicines.

Pills under magnifying glass

The UK Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) has taken part in the annual global co-ordinated operation to tackle the illegal online sale of medicines and medical devices. According to the regulatory body, this year’s operation identified a trend of falsified medicines to ‘treat’ COVID-19. 

Operation Pangea XIII took place from March 3 to 10 and involved police, customs and health regulatory authorities from 90 countries, all aiming to prevent the activity of illicit online sales of medicines and medical products. Counterfeit face masks and unauthorised antiviral medication were all seized under the operation.

Globally, 2,000 online advertisements related to COVID-19 were found and more than 34,000 unlicensed and fake products, advertised as ‘corona spray’, ‘coronavirus medicines’ or, ‘coronaviruses packages’ were seized. No coronavirus-related products were found to have reached UK borders on this occasion. 

In the UK, the MHRA Enforcement team and colleagues from UK Border Force found 871,616 doses of unlicensed medicines with a value of £2.6 million and additionally took down 294 websites and removed 1,031 social media adverts online offering medicines illegally. Working alongside police officers, the MHRA team executed seven warrants leading to two arrests as part of investigations linked to the illegal online sale of medicines, resulting in the seizure of anti-anxiety, sedatives and weight loss products.

Fake medicines seized included anti-depressants, erectile dysfunction tablets, painkillers and anabolic steroids. The confiscations were part of Interpol’s globally co-ordinated Operation Pangea targeting the illegal sale online of fake and illegal medicines and devices.

The majority of seizures made during the operation were unlicensed copies of erectile dysfunction medication totalling 611,888 doses. Other significant seizures included medicines to treat insomnia with 88,160 doses and pain relief medication at 26,005.

Mark Jackson, Head of Enforcement at the MHRA, said: “Our intelligence-led operations across the UK have seized millions of fake and unlicensed medicines. The MHRA is committed to working with our international partners and UK Border Force to prevent fake medicines from entering the UK and to identify illicit websites offering to sell and supply medicines and medical devices illegally.”

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