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Publications

Published: 6 September 2013

Purchasing Medicines over the Internet

Prescriber Update 34(3):31–32
September 2013

Key Messages

  • New Zealand Customs intercepts parcels suspected to contain medicines.
  • Many of the intercepted parcels contain prescription medicines, undeclared or hidden ingredients, or medicines that were imported by companies not licensed in New Zealand.
  • Intercepted prescription medicines need authorisation from a New Zealand prescriber.
  • Prescribers should discuss the potential adverse reactions, interactions with other medicines and appropriate use before authorising medicines.


Healthcare professionals are advised to inform patients about the serious health risks associated with purchasing medicines over the internet. This follows a joint Medsafe and New Zealand Customs crackdown on substandard, illegal or counterfeit medicines.

Medsafe and Customs participated in the week-long Operation PANGEA VI led by INTERPOL (June 18–25). This is the sixth time New Zealand authorities have participated in the largest global internet-based operation focusing on illicit websites selling fake or counterfeit medicines.

Internationally, the operation engages police, customs and national regulatory authorities from around the world to target websites supplying fake and illicit medicines. The operation targets the main areas involved in the illegal online medicine trade such as Internet Service Providers (ISPs), electronic payment systems and delivery services.

More than 9,000 websites linked to illicit online pharmacies were identified and shut down, in addition to the suspension of payment facilities of illegitimate pharmacies and the disruption of a substantial number of spam messages.

Customs targets all incoming international mail suspected to contain medicines, and thousands of these are referred to Medsafe each year. As a result of Operation PANGEA VI, 298 packages were held by Medsafe requiring further investigation. This is more than double the number investigated last year (124). These parcels originated from 32 different countries around the world (21 in 2012).

Parcels were stopped because they contained prescription medicines, were not labelled or were known to contain undeclared or hidden ingredients or medicines that were imported for sale or distribution in New Zealand by commercial entities that are not properly licenced to do so. The most common sources of these products were India (79), USA (59) and China (30).

The 298 consignments detained or seized by Medsafe often contained several different types of prescription medicines. 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, hair loss, insomnia, gastrointestinal illness and respiratory illness.

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 or letter from a New Zealand doctor. This serves to satisfy Medsafe that the importer has a reasonable excuse for having imported a personal supply of a prescription medicine.

Healthcare professionals should discuss the potential adverse reactions, interactions with other medicines and the appropriate use of the medicines before agreeing to authorise medicines purchased over the internet.

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