Published: 29 September 2017


Medsafe highlights the dangers of purchasing medicines over the internet

Medsafe is reminding New Zealanders of the dangers of purchasing medicines online from overseas, following a global week of action led by INTERPOL.

For the tenth time Medsafe with New Zealand Customs recently participated in the annual international initiative known as Operation PANGEA, to highlight the illicit trade in medicines around the world.

Customs targets incoming international mail suspected to contain prescription medicines, with thousands of interceptions each year being referred to Medsafe for assessment.

As a result of Operation PANGEA X, 426 packages were held for further investigation, 253 more than the number investigated last year. The increase is a result of Customs targeting a large number of parcels containing medicines and controlled drugs sent from one overseas supplier.

The parcels referred originated from 27 different countries around the world (31 last year) and were stopped because they contained prescription medicines, medicines that were not labelled or that were known to contain undeclared or hidden ingredients. The most common sources of these products were USA (201), India (141) and United Kingdom (11).

Medicines for the treatment of insomnia, such as melatonin were the most prevalent products examined by Medsafe (amounting to 27649 individual dosage units). Vitamins and minerals at a dosage level making them prescription medicines in New Zealand were the next most prevalent (11087 individual dosage units). Medicines for treatment of erectile dysfunction (3825 individual dosage units) were the third most prevalent. In previous years this category was the most prevalent (3652 dosage units last year). The overall increase in numbers was due to Customs targeting the particular overseas supplier.

Manager of Medsafe Compliance, Derek Fitzgerald, says, ‘It is very important for anyone intending to buy prescription medicines via the internet to consult their doctor, who can diagnose a condition, determine the appropriateness of any required medicines, advise on potential side effects and interactions with other medicines and can advise on appropriate dosage.

‘Ensuring a prescription medicine is suitable for a person requires appropriate consideration by a qualified health care professional as these medicines are potent and the conditions they treat require careful diagnosis and monitoring.

‘This year highlighted the risk to New Zealanders of purchasing products that are dietary supplements in one country and prescription medicines in New Zealand. Products manufactured as dietary supplements may not be required to be manufactured to the same high standards that medicines are required to meet.

‘It is important to stress that although a website may appear to be legitimate, appear to be established in a well-regulated country and appears to be offering well-known medicines, this may not be the case.

‘People should be aware that the organisation behind a convincing looking website may be more interested in making money at their expense rather than providing a quality health care product.

‘Medicines purchased online present a risk to consumers because their quality, safety and effectiveness can’t be guaranteed and they may not be appropriate for the intended recipient.’

Prescription medicines are referred to Medsafe by Customs to ensure compliance with New Zealand law. Most prescription medicines Medsafe detains are held until the person importing them provides a valid authority from their doctor or authorised prescriber. If this does not occur they are destroyed. Around 30% of medicines detained are subsequently released.

Further background 

Operation Pangea X was coordinated by INTERPOL, with the World Customs Organization (WCO), the Permanent Forum on 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 LegitScript, Google, Mastercard, Visa, American Express and PayPal. 

New Zealand was one of 123 countries that participated in Operation PANGEA X this year.  

For more information see the INTERPOL website

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