Published: 5 September 2014

Fake and Adulterated Medicines on the Internet - Operation PANGEA VII

Prescriber Update 35(3):43
September 2014

The internet can be misused by criminals to sell fake and adulterated medicines. Each year, enforcement agencies from over 100 countries work together in Operation PANGEA to target these criminals.

Operation PANGEA VII took place in May 2014. Over 10,600 websites worldwide were shut down, 237 arrests were made and nearly USD$36 million worth of potentially dangerous medicines were seized. Customs agencies from around the world inspected approximately 543,000 packages, of which nearly 20,000 were seized. Among the 9.4 million fake and illicit medicines seized were slimming pills, cancer medication, erectile dysfunction pills, cough and cold medication, anti-malarials, cholesterol medication and nutritional products.

In New Zealand, authorities held 248 packages for further investigation. These parcels originated from 32 different countries around the world. The parcels were stopped because they were found to contain prescription medicines, did not have labels or were known to contain undeclared or hidden ingredients.

Most of the parcels seized contained lifestyle type medicines such as those for erectile dysfunction, weight loss, and performance and image enhancing drugs. The accuracy of the labels on these medicines cannot be guaranteed and other products may contain undeclared ingredients. For example, a consumer may be led to believe they have purchased a "safe herbal product", which in fact contains a prescription medicine.

Healthcare professionals can help reduce the number of fake and adulterated medicines that enter New Zealand by doing the following:

  1. Be wary if a patient requests a prescription for medicine purchased over the internet. Criminals go to great lengths to make their websites appear genuine. It is common for online businesses to purport to be reputable online pharmacies when they are not. Some pretend to be located in New Zealand.
  2. Consider the following questions before providing a prescription for a medicine obtained from an online business:
    • Is the patient under your care?
    • Is the medicine, dose and quantity appropriate for the patient?
    • Is the patient aware of the risks of using medicines purchased over the internet?
    • Are you willing to take responsibility for prescribing your patient an unapproved medicine that is likely to be of unknown quality and origin?
    • Are you satisfied that your actions will meet ethical standards?
  3. If a patient presents with unexplained symptoms, consider that the patient may have used a medicine or dietary supplement purchased over the internet.
  4. Report adverse reactions to the Centre for Adverse Reactions Monitoring (CARM).

Please note that by writing a prescription for one of these medicines, the prescriber assumes the risks. This includes the risks associated with the medicine being unapproved or counterfeit, as well as the risks that the product is of unknown quality and origin.


CLARIFICATION: Medsafe will only accept authorisation when it is provided on the specific form given to the person who is importing the medicine. The form provides instructions for both the patient and the presciber and requests that the prescriber sends it back to Medsafe.
The use of a specific form prevents a patient from importing a medicine with a prescription previously obtained from a prescriber.