Close to 900,000 units of illegal medicines detained by the HPRA in 2023

News Category: Regulatory news

Date: 28/03/2024

The Health Products Regulatory Authority (HPRA) today released its annual enforcement data which shows that it detained 874,945 dosage units* of falsified and other illegal medicines in 2023. Announcing the figures, the HPRA warned of the serious health dangers posed by sourcing prescription medicines online and from unauthorised sources. It states that the supply of these products into and within Ireland is illegal and stresses that consumers can have no guarantees about the safety or quality of prescription medicines they are seeking to buy outside of the regulated pharmacy setting.

In the 12 months of 2023, the most significant categories of illegal products detained included sedatives (34%), anabolic steroids (29%), erectile dysfunction medicines (10%), analgesics (5%), and Stimulants (3%). The breakdown is as follows:

  • Sedative medicines – 294,145 units detained
  • Anabolic steroids – 250,922 units detained
  • Erectile dysfunction medicines – 84,119 units detained
  • Analgesic medicines – 42,307 units detained
  • Stimulants – 24,530 units detained

The HPRA also continues to monitor online activity promoting prescription medicines and other substances, and routinely intervenes to disrupt this promotion. Such activity is often linked to the use of particular substances for aesthetic and body image purposes.

The following are some of the key enforcement actions taken by the HPRA in 2023:

  • Two prosecution cases initiated, relating to the importation or distribution of anabolic steroids.
  • 2,348 websites, e-commerce listings and/or social media pages amended or shutdown.

Grainne Power, Director of Compliance with the HPRA, expressed concern that the 2023 data continue to highlight the risks that individuals take when attempting to purchase prescription medicines from unauthorised suppliers.

“If you are sourcing prescription medicines outside of a registered pharmacy and without medical supervision, you are putting your health at risk. Prescription medicines purchased through online or unauthorised channels are unregulated and are circulating outside of the legal supply chain. As a result, we have no idea what they contain. It is possible that they are fake or counterfeit and falsely labelled, if indeed they are labelled at all. These products could cause serious side effects and they present a very real danger to health.

“While we welcome a slight decrease in overall detentions this year (874,945 units in 2023 compared to 939,388 units in 2022), the data shows a concerning increase in a number of categories. Of particular note, there was a more than 20% increase in the volume of illegal anabolic steroids detained. This is continuing an upward trend observed over several years.

“We believe young men in particular may be sourcing anabolic steroids for body enhancement while being unaware of the serious health complications posed by these products. Anabolic steroids can cause serious physical and psychological health issues. The potential physical side effects alone include heart failure, liver issues, kidney damage, and infertility.

According to Ms Power, there appears to be a willingness among some consumers to take risks in sourcing falsified medicines and unauthorised substances for what would be considered aesthetic and body image purposes.

“Whether for privacy, ease of access, cost, or simply aware that their doctor may not deem it appropriate medical use, many choose to seek out these products online and from other unregulated sources. In addition to anabolic steroids, we are also seeing a concerning upward trend in detentions of Melanotan 2, an unregulated substance promoted as a self-tanning aid, as well as botulinum toxin and online semaglutide and liraglutide products. While overall numbers remain low, as with all illegally supplied products, once consumers step outside of the regulated supply chain, they have absolutely no guarantees as to safety, quality or effectiveness. Some of these substances are not authorised for use by any regulator anywhere in the world while other products that are presented as legitimate medicines, could well be falsified or fake.

“It is simply never worth taking a risk when it comes to your health. We urge anyone who has purchased prescription medicines from unregulated sources to stop using them immediately, and to contact their healthcare professional if they have any concerns about their health,” she concluded.

The HPRA will initiate prosecution cases where it considers that there is a significant risk to public health or where there are persistent non-compliances. The HPRA also supports prosecutions brought by the Director of Public Prosecutions in relation to the illegal supply of medicines.

Before initiating a prosecution, the HPRA will typically engage with an offender, detain product and may formally caution the individual to ensure any illegal activity is ended. In 2023, 14 voluntary formal cautions were issued.

The HPRA works in close co-operation with colleagues from An Garda Síochána and Revenue’s Customs Service. There continues to be significant inter-agency collaboration to combat the illegal supply of health products into and within Ireland. The HPRA also co-operates and shares intelligence with other regulatory and law enforcement agencies across Europe and worldwide to prevent the illegal manufacture, importation and distribution of medicines, medical devices, and cosmetics.

The HPRA welcomes reports of suspicious activities linked to the supply of medicines and other health products. Anyone can report in confidence to the HPRA at or at 01 6343871.

Units Detained


Botulinum toxin

Melanotan 2























For further information

Káno Communications (01) 679 8600

Siobhán Molloy / Kathryn Moley (086) 817 5066 / (086) 733 4438

*Dosage units = individual tablets, capsules, vials, etc.

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