More than 1m doses of counterfeit or suspect medicines and health supplements destined for public consumption were seized by authorities last year in their biggest annual haul to date.
Sedatives accounted for two thirds of the seizures and GPs warned it is further evidence of a growing problem of addiction to tranquilisers and anti-anxiety drugs and the lucrative black market that feeds it.
However, the haul also included erectile dysfunction products, illegal cosmetics, anabolic steroids, slimming pills, and pain relief products that were unlicensed, substandard, or fake. They were at best ineffective and, at worst, dangerous.
The seizures, amounting to 1,136,494 individual items, were recorded by the Health Products Regulatory Authority (HPRA) and mark a significant increase on the previous year when 730,000 were taken out of circulation. Average annual quantities since 2010 have been 798,000.
Ray Walley, of the Irish Medical Organisation’s GP Committee, said people were taking a huge gamble by buying products from abroad or other unregulated outlets.
“Many of these medications are adulterated. You’re sticking a pill in your mouth that you don’t know the contents of and some of which may cause irreversible damage,” he warned.
While a third of the seizures related to lifestyle-related drugs sourced by people possibly too ignorant or embarrassed to ask their GP or pharmacist, the bulk reveal a more sinister trend.
Drug dealers have been increasingly supplementing their trade in prohibited substances with sales of prescription drugs, genuine and counterfeit.
The Government rushed legislation through the Dáil over the summer to increase Garda powers to tackle this illicit trade following the spate of drug gang murders in Dublin’s inner city.
However, Dr Walley said the legislation would not be effective without an increase in funding for the gardaí, healthcare and other support services.
“More than ever we need appropriate resourcing of all the structures for tackling this problem,” he said. “We have only 35 public funded detox beds in the system.”
He said the seizures were likely to be the tip of the iceberg.
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