The UK’s drug body, the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), last week announced four people had been sentenced in relation to the illegal online supply of medicines and, according to a spokesman, it is “not an issue that’s going away.”
The MHRA told in-Pharmatechnologist.com that it was difficult to tell how widespread a problem counterfeit drugs were in the UK though cases are on the increase, in line with an overall global rise in problems.
The recent convictions - centered in Gwent, Wales - came after an MHRA undercover operation discovered that prescription medicines were being imported from Pakistan and being re-sold in smaller amounts to consumers in the UK.
Andrew Luxton and Samantha Steed were both sentenced to 12 months in prison for their crimes, which included conspiracy to sell or supply prescription only medicines, possession of counterfeit medicines in breach of trademarks, possession of methadone and supplying Diazepam. Carl Willis and Anthony Luxton were also convicted on conspiracy to supply prescription only medicines charges.
The MHRA said arrests involving counterfeit drugs are dealt with by the full force of the UK law and may involve fines, the shuttering of websites or, as in this case, imprisonment.
The MHRA have a team dedicated to enforcement issues who fall under Operation Pangea, an international initiative involving a number of drug regulators and border agencies, coordinated by Interpol.
Operation Pangea began in April 2006 as the MHRA's UK Internet Day of Action. Last September, Operation Pangea V saw the participation of 100 countries in a week long crackdown on the illegal pharmaceutical industry. According to Interpol, 79 people were arrested worldwide, approximately 18,000 websites were shut down and 3.75 million illicit and counterfeit pills with a value of $10.5m (€8.2m) were confiscated.
The operation also led to a new campaign by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to inform US citizens about the potential health risks of buying drugs from unknown websites.
“Consumers in the United States and around the world face a real threat from Internet pharmacies that illegally sell potentially substandard, counterfeit, adulterated or otherwise unsafe medicines,” said FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg, speaking at the time. “The FDA is committed to joining forces to protect consumers from the risks these websites present.”