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Over 1.6 million units of illegal medicines, including sedatives and erectile dysfunction medications, were seized in 2020, which is a sharp increase on previous figures, and ‘very concerning’, according to the Health Products Regulatory Authority (HPRA).

A GOV.UK press release says that in total, more than 3 million medicines and medical devices with a value of over £9 million were seized by UK officers in Northern Ireland as part of a global operation tackling the illegal online sale of medicines and medical devices.

It has led to the removal or blocking of 113,000 illegally operating websites, and seven people were arrested after eight search warrants were executed.

The 1.6 million units of seized medicines represent a 58 per cent increase in the number of doses seized in 2019, the HPRA said, adding that 583,805 units of sedative medication and 484,846 doses of erectile dysfunction drugs were seized, with 370,000 tablets of the latter detained in one seizure alone.

Other examples of illegal medications seized included anabolic steroids, analgesic medicines, and 56,876 doses of Covid-19 medicines. 

As part of Operation Pangea, a joint Interpol-co-ordinated week of action targeting the online sale of falsified and illegal medicines, a further 103,000 doses were seized in the past week.

The HPRA has stressed that anyone purchasing such illegal medicines has no guarantee about the quality or safety of the drugs, and a spokesperson reminded the public that for their own safety to only purchase medicines from authorised sources.

Andy Morling, Head of Enforcement at the MHRA, said: “Criminals selling medicines and devices illegally are not only breaking the law but have no regard for your health. Taking fake or unlicensed medicines or using a non-compliant medical device could put your health and safety in danger and may lead to serious health issues.”

HPRA chief executive Dr Lorraine Nolan described the year-on-year increase in the time of Covid-19 as being “very concerning”, saying that the internet’s pervasiveness as an outlet for online purchases means that many people may not realise that sourcing prescription medicines online is illegal, and many of the bogus sites could be operated by criminal networks.

She said the HPRA is also ‘seriously concerned’ that consumers may not be aware of the ‘significant health risks’ associated with the consumption of such medicines.

“We know from our investigations and prosecutions that those who seek to profit from illegal medicines have little regard for the health of the end-users of the medicines they are supplying,” Dr Nolan said.

“Our detentions over many years have identified that a significant proportion of these products are falsely labelled and do not contain the type or quantity of active ingredient as stated on the product information.”

Operation Pangea XIV 2021 took place from 18-25 May and involved many countries and several agencies including the PSNI and Border Force.

The HPRA warned consumers to be extra careful when buying medicines online, as they are not ordinary goods and the sale and supply of them are tightly controlled. Not only is it breaking the law, but could pose a serious health risk.

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