The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) has released figures showing that it seized more than 15.5 million doses of illegally traded medicines during 2023, valued at more than £30m.
This includes more than 2 million doses seized during ‘Operation Pangea‘, an international initiative tackling medicines crime led by Interpol, which runs for one week every year.
The MHRA said on 30 January 2024 that medications confiscated included: prescription-only anti-anxiety medicines, opioids and sleeping pills; falsified and unlicensed lifestyle products, such as erectile dysfunction and hair loss medications; and a small number of aesthetic products, such as Botox and ‘weight loss’ products containing semaglutide.
In November 2023, the MHRA warned of the dangers of fake weight loss drugs, after receiving several reports under its Yellow Card scheme for the use of products that claim to include semaglutide or liraglutide.
The MHRA and its partners also disrupted more than 12,000 websites illegally selling medical products to the public and shut down almost 3,000 social media profiles during 2023.
Andy Morling, deputy director of criminal enforcement at the MHRA, said: “Public safety is our number one priority. Our criminal enforcement unit works hard to prevent, detect and investigate illegal activity involving medicines and medical devices, to protect people and defeat this harmful trade.
“This year, working with partners across public and private sectors, our efforts have led to more medicines seizures than ever, custodial sentences for offenders, the removal of criminal profits and considerable success in disrupting the trade online.”
In its press release, the MHRA said it works with online marketplaces, social media platforms and technology providers, as well as law enforcement agencies in the UK and abroad, to investigate and remove potentially harmful medical products that are offered illegally to the public.
“Support and advice provided by the MHRA to online marketplaces in 2023 resulted in the removal of more than half a million unregulated prescription medicines, over-the-counter medicines and medical devices before they could be offered for sale to the public,” it said.
Since Operation Pangea began in April 2006, 25 million illegally traded medicines and devices valued at more than £84m have been confiscated as part of the initiative in the UK, the MHRA said.