Thousands of dangerous medicines seized in the north of Ireland as part of global international operation – O’Neill

Date published: 09 June 2016


Health Minister, Michelle O’Neill has revealed the seizure of tens of thousands of illegally imported and unauthorised medicines in the north of Ireland as part of an international operation.

Operation Pangea IX which took place between 30 May and 7 June 2016 involving 103 countries, aimed to disrupt the illicit online sale of medicines as well as raising awareness of the significant health risks associated with buying medicines online from illegal websites, or in response to advertisements on social media platforms.

A dedicated operations centre at INTERPOL’s General Secretariat headquarters in Lyon, served as the central hub for information exchange among the participating countries and agencies.

As part of Operation Pangea IX, multiple packages containing some 90,000 tablets and injections destined for addresses throughout the north of Ireland were intercepted.  They included:

  • 56,000 diazepam tablets;
  • 23,000 pregabalin tablets;
  • 2000 tramadol tablets; and
  • other medicines including steroids, erectile dysfunction tablets and anti-wrinkle injections

In total these are worth up to £100,000 on the black market.

Health Minister Michelle O’Neill said; “The risk to the public due to illegal or counterfeit medicines is very real. This problem is not something we can tackle in isolation and my Department is committed to working with other agencies to stop the supply of illegal medicines over the internet.

“Operation Pangea IX has involved the coordinated efforts of a number of agencies including the Police, Customs and medicines enforcement officers from my Department, who will continue to be diligent all year round in their efforts and are determined to combat this serious problem.

“The type of collaborative work well demonstrated by Operation Pangea, has led to the interception and seizure of many illegal medicines destined for addresses throughout the north.  The truth is that this might very well save lives, as sadly, young people are often unaware of the potentially fatal consequences of taking these unprescribed drugs, particularly when taken with alcohol.” 

Global results from Operation Pangea IX include:

  • 103 countries and 193 agencies participated
  • 393 arrests worldwide
  • seizure of over 12million potentially life-threatening medicines worth an estimated USD 53 million (approximately £36.5million)
  • 4,932 websites identified as being engaged in illegal activity were shut down
  • 334,000 packages were inspected by regulators and customs authorities, of which, 170,340 were seized

Professor Mike Mawhinney, Head of Medicines Regulatory Group, Department of Health added; “People should take prescription only medicines in consultation with their GP, pharmacist or other healthcare professionals who have access to patient health records and can take into account the risks and benefits associated with every medicine. Medicines obtained through unregulated internet sites may not have been prescribed by a healthcare practitioner, may not have been subject to the normal controls on manufacture and may not be of a suitable quality or be of the nature described.”

“We urge the public not to be tempted by what look like cut prices or fooled by professional looking websites offering medicines without prescription. Taking short cuts and using these medicines could expose you to a dangerous counterfeit or substandard medicine and, additionally, you could also be the victim of identity theft or credit card fraud”

Peter Moore, Senior Medicines Enforcement Officer added; “Participation in this Operation is part of our continuing efforts to reduce the harm that can be caused to the Northern Ireland public by those making use of the internet to commit crime or source their medicines. The operation has shown that the illicit medicines recovered were destined for addresses throughout Northern Ireland leaving none of our communities immune from the dangers presented by drugs like these.”

Further information on the risks of buying medicines online can be found on the nidirect website.

Notes to editors: 

  1. Operation Pangea is an international initiative to target the illegal internet trade in pharmaceutical products. It was first instigated by the MHRA in April 2006. The operation is the largest internet based enforcement action of its kind to date and involved INTERPOL, the World Customs Organisation (WCO), the Permanent Forum of International Pharmaceutical Crime (PFIPC) and the Heads of Medicines Agencies Working Group of Enforcement Officers (HMA WGEO).
  2. The types of medicines seized globally included those for the treatment of cancer, erectile dysfunction, infection, hair-loss and pain. Other medicines seized included human growth hormones, anabolic steroids and anti-depressants.
  3. To report any suspicious activity in relation to any unauthorised or counterfeit medicines in the north, please contact Mr Peter Moore, Senior Medicines Enforcement Officer, DOH Medicines Regulatory Group, on: 028 90522094 or by email:
  4. Further information is available on nidirect.
  5. Media enquiries to the Department of Health Press Office on 028 905 20571 or out of office hours contact the Duty Press Officer via pager number 076 9971 5440 and your call will be immediately returned.  Follow us on Twitter @healthdpt

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