Operation Pangea VII, the Interpol collaboration responsible for fighting online drug trafficking, has succeeded in curbing illegal online prescription drug sales in over 111 countries. This week, thousands of packages containing illegal prescription drugs were seized at mailing offices throughout the world, and nearly 2,000 websites that facilitated the sales have been exposed.

The FDA detained or seized 583 packages in the U.S. as part of Operation Pangea VII. These seizures occurred at mailing centers in Los Angeles, New York, and Chicago, according to the Food and Drug Administration press release. The FDA also notified Internet service providers, domain name registrars, and other related organizations of the 1,975 websites that they found to be selling products in violation of U.S. law.

On an international level, Operation Pangea VII led to the seizure of 19,618 packages containing unapproved or counterfeit drugs sent from developing countries such as India, China, Mexico, Malaysia, Singapore, Laos, and Taiwan. The products were also sent from more western nations such as Australia, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom. Among the products seized were drugs such as insulin, estrogen, and HGH, among other illegal purchases.  

Dangers of Counterfeit Prescriptions

Not only is the sale of these products illegal, but it is also highly dangerous to the users. “When consumers buy prescription drugs from outside the legitimate supply chain, they cannot know if the medicines they receive are counterfeit or even if they contain the right active ingredient in the proper dosages,” Douglas Stearn, director of the FDA’s Office of Enforcement and Import Operations, explained in a press release. In 2006, more than 100 patients were killed in Panama by a counterfeit glycerin contained in cough medicine. In Africa, according to World Health Organization data, counterfeit prescription drugs make up 70 percent of the prescription drug market and every year account for hundreds of thousands of deaths, USA Today reported. In the United States, it is believed that counterfeit drug sales are increasing as nearly twice as fast as the sales of legitimate pharmaceuticals. Interpol states this is due to their cheap prices, quick delivery, and overall convenience.

American Situation

Many Americans order medicine online under the assumption that it will be the same as the U.S.-approved versions, only at a lower price. This is usually not the case. Although the website will claim that the drug is identical to the U.S. version, in reality it is an unapproved or counterfeit alternative. “Many illegal online pharmacies use slick website templates and empty guarantees to convince U.S. consumers that the inexpensive drugs they sell are the exact same prescription drugs that are dispensed in the U.S.,” Philip J. Walsky, acting director of the FDA’s Office of Criminal Investigations, said in the FDA press release.

What are counterfeit drugs?

Interpol describes counterfeit products are those which contain the wrong level of active ingredient (either too much or too little), or an active ingredient intended for a different purpose. They are often packaged to a high standard with fake pills that look nearly identical to the original product. Often a lab test is the only way to determine a difference. A large number of websites that sell medicine or medical devices are unauthorized, unregulated, and use illicit or sub-standard products.