Revised: 5 October 2012
Medsafe is again warning about the dangers of purchasing medicines online after the medicines safety agency once again joined the New Zealand Customs Service in a global operation aimed at targeting substandard, illegal or counterfeit medicine.
Medsafe Group Manager Stewart Jessamine said prescription medicines purchased online are risky because you cannot be sure the medicines supplied will meet the New Zealand laws assuring quality, safety and effectiveness.
"Prescription medicines are not ordinary commodities. They are potent substances and as such should only be used following a consultation with a doctor in New Zealand."
Operation PANGEA V, aimed at disrupting criminal networks behind the illicit online sale of medicines, was coordinated by INTERPOL and other international agencies between September 25 and 2 October, 2012. It is the fifth time New Zealand authorities have participated in such an operation.
During the operation NZ Customs and Medsafe from the Ministry of Health conducted intensified screening of all mail entering the country through the International Mail Centre. Of the large volume of parcels screened, 190 were held by Customs on suspicion of containing a variety of prescription medicines or therapeutic products. Following an additional examination by staff from Medsafe, 124 of these were detained or seized pending further investigation. These parcels originated from 21 different countries and were either detained or seized because they contained prescription medicines, they were not labelled and therefore could not be identified, or they were products known to contain undeclared or hidden ingredients.
Prescription medicines used for the treatment of erectile dysfunction were the most prevalent products examined by Medsafe, with 1890 individual tablets or capsules detained or seized. Antibiotics and insomnia medication were the next two most prevalent. Only one parcel contained a counterfeit or fake product.
Dr Jessamine said Medsafe strongly encourages consumers, especially those intending to buy prescription medicines, to consult their doctor, who can advise on potential side effects, interactions with other medicines and appropriate dosage.
So far, 62 countries have provided feedback regarding their involvement in Operation PANGEA V. This number is expected to increase as results are submitted to INTERPOL. These countries include Argentina, Australia, Austria, Azerbaijan, Bulgaria, Bosnia, Bahrain, Belarus, Belgium, Costa Rica, Croatia, Cyprus, Canada, Czech Republic, Denmark, Dominican Republic, Estonia, Equador, France, Finland, Greece, Guyana, Hungary, Hong Kong (China), Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Iran, Israel, Japan, Jamaica, Jordon, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Losotho, Malaysia, Mongolia, Mauritius, New Zealand, Norway, Nicaragua, Netherlands, Portugal, Panama, Russia, Romania, Singapore, Serbia, Spain, Slovenia, Sweden, Switzerland, Slovakia, Thailand, Turkey, Tajikistan, USA, the United Kingdom, Uzbekistan and Vietnam.
Prescription medicines are referred to Medsafe by Customs to ensure they have been imported in accordance with the Medicines Act 1981 and Medicines Regulations 1984. The main reason prescription medicines were detained by Medsafe during the operation was to give the importer an opportunity to obtain a prescription from a NZ doctor. This serves to satisfy Medsafe that the importer has a reasonable excuse for importing a personal supply of a prescription medicine. Product seizures related to items that purported to be purely herbal but contained hidden or undeclared prescription medicines or medicines that were imported for sale or distribution in NZ by commercial entities that are not properly licenced to do so.
The 124 consignments detained or seized by Medsafe often contained several different types of prescription medicine. The consignments were found to contain assorted antibiotics, painkillers, oral contraceptives and prescription medicines for the treatment of heart disease, weight loss, mental health conditions, erectile dysfunction, skin disorders, hair loss, insomnia, gastrointestinal illness and respiratory illness.
Operation PANGEA V was coordinated by INTERPOL, the World Customs Organization (WCO), the Permanent Forum on International Pharmaceutical Crime (PFIPC), the Heads of Medicines Agencies Working Group of Enforcement Officers (HMA WGEO), the Pharmaceutical Security Institute (PSI), Europol and for the first time PANGEA was also supported by the Centre for Safe Internet Pharmacies (CSIP), which brings together 12 of the world’s leading Internet and e-commerce companies.
Find out more about international operation results here: http://www.interpol.int/News-and-media/News-media-releases/2012/PR077
For more information, call Ministry of Health, Senior Media Advisor, Anna Chalmers, 04 496 2349 or 021 802 622.