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Published: 23 May 2014

Dangers of purchasing medicines over the internet highlighted - Operation PANGEA VII

23 May 2014

Medsafe is re-emphasising its warning about the dangers of buying medicines online following a joint Medsafe and Customs operation on substandard, illegal or counterfeit medicines crossing the border.

Medsafe Manager Compliance Management Derek Fitzgerald says prescription medicines purchased online are risky because quality, safety and effectiveness can’t be guaranteed.

Prescription medicines are potent substances and as such should only be used following a consultation with a doctor.

Medsafe and Customs participated in the week-long Operation PANGEA VII led by INTERPOL (May 13-20 ) which feeds data from the ongoing New Zealand border control programme into the worldwide effort aimed at detecting illegal trade in medicines. This is the seventh time New Zealand authorities have participated.

Customs targets all incoming international mail suspected to contain medicines, and thousands of interceptions are referred to Medsafe each year.

As a result of Operation PANGEA VII, 248 packages were held requiring further investigation, 50 less than the number investigated last year (298).

These parcels originated from 32 different countries around the world (32 last year) and were stopped because they contained prescription medicines, weren’t labelled or were known to contain undeclared or hidden ingredients. The most common sources of these products were India (90), Switzerland (29) and Great Britain (18).

Mr Fitzgerald says medicines for the treatment of erectile dysfunction were the most prevalent products examined by Medsafe (5234 individual tablets). Medicines for Insomnia, endocrine disorders and heart disease / cholesterol were the next most prevalent. Only two parcels contained a counterfeit or fake product (medicines for the treatment of erectile dysfunction) – one more than last year.

Medsafe strongly encourages anyone intending to buy prescription medicines via the internet to consult their doctor who can advise on potential side effects, interactions with other medicines and appropriate dosage.

"Consumers who buy online run the risk of purchasing medicines that are inappropriate for them or unknowingly purchasing medicines that are counterfeit, of poor quality or contain dangerous ingredients," according to Mr Fitzgerald.

Prescription medicines are referred to Medsafe by Customs to ensure compliance with New Zealand law. Most prescription medicines Medsafe detains are held until the importer provides a valid doctor’s prescription - if this does not occur they are destroyed.

Additional information

Operation Pangea VII was coordinated by INTERPOL, with the World Customs Organization (WCO), the Permanent Forum of International Pharmaceutical Crime (PFIPC), the Heads of Medicines Agencies Working Group of Enforcement Officers (WGEO), the Pharmaceutical Security Institute (PSI), Europol, and supported by the Center for Safe Internet Pharmacies (CSIP) and private sector companies including Microsoft, G2, Visa, Mastercard, American Express, PayPal and LegitScript.

New Zealand was one of 111 countries that participated in Operation PANGEA VII this year.

For more information see the INTERPOL media release.

Countries that participated in operation PANGEA VI included:
Albania; Angola; Argentina; Armenia; Australia; Austria; Azerbaijan; Bahamas; Belarus; Belgium; Benin; Bhutan; Bolivia; Bosnia & Hercegovina; Bulgaria; Burkina Faso; Cameroon; Canada; Cape Verde; Chile; China; Colombia; Costa Rica; Croatia; Cyprus; Czech Republic; Denmark; Djibouti; DRC; El Salvador; Estonia; Finland; France; Gambia; Georgia; Germany; Greece; Guyana; Honduras; Hong Kong, China; Hungary; Iceland; India; Indonesia; Iran; Iraq; Ireland; Israel; Italy; Ivory Coast; Japan; Jordan; Kazakhstan; Kenya; Korea (Rep. of); Kyrgyzstan; Latvia; Lebanon; Lichtenstein; Lithuania; Malawi; Malaysia; Malta; Mauritius; Mexico; Mongolia; Montenegro; Morocco; Namibia; Netherlands; New Zealand; Nicaragua; Northern Ireland – UK; Norway; Pakistan; Paraguay; Peru; Philippines; Poland; Portugal; Romania; Russia; Rwanda; Samoa; San Marino; Saudi Arabia; Senegal; Serbia; Seychelles; Singapore; Slovakia; Slovenia; South Africa; Spain; Sri Lanka; Swaziland; Sweden; Switzerland; Tajikistan; Thailand; Tunisia; Turkey; Uganda; Ukraine; United Arab Emirates; United Kingdom; Uruguay; USA; Uzbekistan; Venezuela; Vietnam; Zambia; and Zimbabwe.

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