Seizures of illegal prescription drugs rise 233% in a year

Garda and Customs operation results in 11-fold jump in sedative seizures

 Detective Superintendent Ashley O’Sullivan; Dr Lorraine Nolan, chief executive of the Health Products Regulatory Authority (HPRA); Heath Minister Simon Harris and Esther Keating from the Revenue’s Customs Service pose with illegal medicines seized. Photograph: Niall Carson /PA Wire

Detective Superintendent Ashley O’Sullivan; Dr Lorraine Nolan, chief executive of the Health Products Regulatory Authority (HPRA); Heath Minister Simon Harris and Esther Keating from the Revenue’s Customs Service pose with illegal medicines seized. Photograph: Niall Carson /PA Wire

 

Seizures of illegal prescription drugs during an annual Garda and Customs operation jumped three-fold this year compared to 2016, according to the State’s medicines watchdog.

Over 200,000 units of illegal medicines, most of them sourced online, were seized during the operation, compared to 60,000 last year, the Health Products Regulatory Authority (HPRA) said.

The biggest increase in seizures was for sedatives, up from 6,500 in 2016 to 76,000 in this year’s operation. Most of the drugs are imported by criminal gangs for resale on the street.

Seized packets of the benzodiazepine Diazepam on display at the Health Products Regulatory Authority (HPRA) Headquarters. Photograph: Niall Carson /PA Wire
Seized packets of the benzodiazepine Diazepam on display at the Health Products Regulatory Authority (HPRA) Headquarters. Photograph: Niall Carson /PA Wire

Most of the haul, with a combined value of €850,000, was put on display for Minister for Health Simon Harris in the HPRA’s headquarters in Dublin on Monday.

The week-long Operation Pangea X, which is carried out in coordination with police and customs authorities across Europe each year, also resulted in two arrests, the investigation of 38 websites and eight social media pages being taken offline.

Interpol said the global operation resulted in over 25 million illegal medicines and medical devices worth over $56 million being detained in 123 countries.

The seizures included 76,000 units of sedatives, 72,000 units of anabolic steroids and 23,000 units of erectile dysfunction tablets, as well as smaller amounts of antibiotics, slimming pills and painkillers. Injectable pens, tanning products, cancer drugs and abortifacients were also seized.

The main countries of origin for the packages were India, China, Latvia, UK, Moldova, Cameroon, Pakistan and the US.

A total of 20 search warrants were executed jointly by the HPRA, An Garda Síochána and Revenue’s Customs Service with 38 websites investigated and forced to either close or cease selling product into Ireland. Eight social media pages and 18 advertisements on online auction sites were also taken down during the operation.

The big rise in seizures is being attributed to better detection rather than an increase in supply. “There are a number of factors at play here resulting in a threefold annual increase namely enhancing our intelligence led enforcement activities and building successfully on our deep year-round collaboration with our partner agencies,” said HPRA chief executive Dr Lorraine Nolan.

The illicit supply of medicines to the general public carries serious health risks, she warned. “The products we have detained are prescription only medicines for a reason - people should only be taking them under the care of their doctor and in the knowledge they have been supplied by a regulated and trusted source such as their local pharmacy. There is no guarantee as to what is contained in these products we have detained or under what conditions they have been manufactured.”

Mr Harris said he hoped the image of seized drugs would prompt people to think seriously about the risk involved in buying prescription medicines online.

The mail order of prescription medicines, including internet supply, is banned in Ireland. No internet pharmacy authorised in another country is permitted to supply prescription medicines to Irish. Non-prescription medicines can be sold online provided the operators is registered.