Gardaí among forces involved in worldwide seizure of 25 million illegal medicines in a week

Hundreds of thousands of illegal prescription drugs have been found by authorities in an international one-week blitz on the illicit trade.

The crackdown resulted in three times as many seizures as last year, with sedatives, steroids and erectile dysfunction treatments the most common.

The Interpol-led Operation Pangea, now in its tenth year, led to 400 arrests around the world.

The Health Products Regulatory Authority (HPRA) worked with gardaí and Revenue Customs and Interpol to dismantle some of the trade and €850,000 of black market drugs were recovered.

Two arrests were made in Ireland, eight social media pages were taken offline and another 38 websites investigated.

Checks of packages in airports and postal sorting offices recovered more than 70,000 units of both sedatives and anabolic steroids.

The next most commonly seized were erectile dysfunction drugs, with 23,000 units of pills and treatments found.

The HPRA said that smaller quantities of slimming pills, antibiotics, analgesics and drugs for cognitive issues were also seized.

Health Minister Simon Harris said: "It is important for everyone to be aware that these types of products can pose a serious health risk.

"Consumers have no way of knowing what is actually in the medicine or how and where they were made."

HPRA chief executive Dr Lorraine Nolan said the huge increase in the number of seizures this year was down in part to improved intelligence.

"There is no guarantee as to what is contained in these products we have detained or under what conditions they have been manufactured," she said.

Operation Pangea involved 197 police, customs and health regulatory authorities from 123 countries and led to 25 million illicit and counterfeit medicines being seized. It was the biggest success to date.

Worldwide, 3,584 websites were taken offline and more than 3,000 online adverts for illicit pharmaceuticals were suspended.

The operation ran from September 12-19 and some of the most common counterfeit or illicit drugs were intended to be used for dietary supplements, pain killing, epilepsy, erectile dysfunction, anti-psychotic conditions and nutrition.

Interpol also targeted the supply of the potent opioid painkiller fentanyl, which has been responsible for thousands of heroin user deaths worldwide.

The agency said €421,000 worth of illicit medical devices were also seized, such as dental devices and implants, condoms, syringes, medical testing strips and surgical equipment.

In the Democratic Republic of Congo nearly 650 kilos of illicit anti-malaria pills were found.

Immanuel Sam, head of Interpol's National Central Bureau in Namibia, said: "The sale of fake or counterfeit pharmaceuticals is a growing concern across Africa, as it creates a dangerous situation for the health of unsuspecting consumers who trust that the products they purchase are safe to use."

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