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Millions of Drugs, Medical Devices Detained in 116-Country Operation

Posted 23 October 2018 | By Ana Mulero 

Millions of Drugs, Medical Devices Detained in 116-Country Operation

A total of 465 websites are the target of a global operation led by Interpol to crack down on the illegal sale of drugs, including opioids and cancer medications, and has resulted in the detainment of more than 10.1 million illegal dose units of drugs and medical devices.
The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) also posted seven warning letters on Tuesday as part of the international collaboration dubbed Operation Pangea X, FDA spokesperson Jeremy Kahn confirmed with Focus. Each warning letter includes a table of websites that have been found to be in violation of the FD&C Act due to offering misbranded and unapproved drugs, Kahn noted.
The networks that drew FDA warning letters include RxAff, Store Pills Network, MyRxAffiliate Program, Discount Pharmacy, Farma Glow, TeraPharm and IceRX. An “anti-herpes” drug, a drug “used for controlling HIV infection” and two “antiviral” drugs are some of the other examples cited in the warning letters as having “circumvented regulatory safeguards.”
But “offering unapproved opioids for sale is particularly concerning given their potential for abuse and dependency, especially amid the growing opioid epidemic in the US,” the warning letters to Farma Glow, Discount Pharmacy, Store Pills Network and RxAff noted. “More than 450 domain names were brought to the attention of search engines and the appropriate name registries and registrars” as part of the agency’s enforcement strategy, FDA said.
The world’s largest international police organization, Interpol, also announced on Tuesday the seizure of a total of 500 tons of illicit pharmaceuticals and more than 11,000 medical devices, including syringes and surgical instruments, across the participating countries as part of an operation initiated 9 October.
“Police, customs and health regulatory authorities from 116 countries targeted the illicit online sale of medicines and medical products, resulting in 859 arrests worldwide and the seizure of USD 14 million worth of potentially dangerous pharmaceuticals,” Interpol said. “Focusing on delivery services manipulated by organized criminal networks, the operation saw 3,671 web links closed down, including websites, social media pages, and online marketplaces.”
FDA offered examples of the criminal investigations that resulted in recent arrests, including an investigation conducted by its Office of Criminal Investigations in April that led to the sentencing of Canadian companies and to the forfeiture of $29 million in proceeds and a $5 million fine.
Interpol further noted that “more packages were seized this year than in previous Pangea operations” but the “number of medicines seized was lower” compared to previous years.
Interpol also reported Polish authorities involved in the operation revealed counterfeit contraceptive pills that had been hidden inside DVD packages.
Approximately 90,000 illegal prescriptions have been detained by Ireland’s Health Products Regulatory Authority (HPRA) as well. The HPRA-seized medicines include illicit sleeping pills “concealed inside a hollowed-out book,” according to Interpol. HPRA’s breakdown of the illegal medicines points to finding anabolic steroids, sedatives, analgesics and erectile dysfunction medicines, among others.
“Falsified medicines and medical devices can appear legitimate, but we can’t stress enough that there are simply no guarantees as to what is contained in these products,” said HPRA Chief Executive Lorraine Nolan. “Laboratory analysis of products detained has shown that these illicit medicines often contain too little or too much of the active ingredient. They have also been found to contain harmful or undeclared substances.”
FDA noted the counterfeit drugs may also contain potentially lethal doses of illicit compounds, such as fentanyl.
In addition, FDA conducted screening sessions at three international airports during the operation. “Of the 626 packages examined, 794 products were refused entry into the US,” the agency said. “Sixty-two products were identified as being purchased from internet sites operating in the United Kingdom, Canada and India.”
Another example of a scheme discovered by the US authorities is known as transaction laundering. According to FDA, an agency cybercrime investigation of payments processed by the illegal online drug networks “led to a federal indictment charging a complex conspiracy related to transaction laundering for online pharmacies.”
Interpol coordinated Operation Pangea XI in collaboration the World Customs Organization, the Permanent Forum of International Pharmaceutical Crime, the Heads of Medicines Agencies Working Group of Enforcement Officers, Europol, Twitter, Facebook and payment card companies, among others. FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research, three FDA offices, the US Drug Enforcement Administration, the US Department of Homeland Security and the US Attorney’s Office for the District of Colorado participated in this year’s global operation as well.


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