90,000 Illegal medicines worth €376,000 detained in Ireland by the HPRA during Operation Pangea

News Category: Regulatory news

Date: 23/10/2018

Close to 490,000 illegal medicines detained to-date in 2018  

The Health Products Regulatory Authority (HPRA), in partnership with Revenue’s Customs Service and An Garda Síochána, today revealed that they have detained almost 90,000 dosage units of illegal prescription medicines, valued at over €375,000, as part of the Interpol-coordinated Operation Pangea XI. Operation Pangea, which took place earlier this month, is an international week of action targeting the online sale of falsified and illegal medicines where Irish authorities joined representatives from 116 other countries working to target criminal networks behind the sale of falsified and illegal medicines via illicit online suppliers and online e-commerce platforms.  

Simultaneously, it was announced today by Interpol that the global Operation Pangea XI resulted in over 10.1 million dosage units of illegal medicines and medical devices, with an estimated value of US$14 million, being detained across all 61 countries involved. Globally, 4,990 websites and web pages on social media, e-commerce sites and other advertisement platforms were shut down or were in the process of being shut down.

The breakdown of the 90,000 (approx.) dosage units of medicines detained during the week of action in October 2018 in Ireland includes:

  • Anabolic steroids 29,518 units
  • Sedatives25,241 units
  • Analgesics 5,477 units
  • Erectile dysfunction 5,700 units
  • Other (small quantities)14,009units


In addition, in line with the approach taken in Operation Pangea, the HPRA, Revenue’s Customs Service and An Garda Síochána have targeted, on an ongoing basis throughout 2018, illegal online supplies, including through social media, coming into and within Ireland. This ongoing action has from January 1st to the end of September, led to the detention of nearly 400,000 dosage units of illegally supplied online medicines valued at €1.39 million. This year round action is focused on disrupting the supply lines, reducing this type of supply and, thereby, safeguarding public health. This ongoing focus in Ireland has also resulted in 14 social media pages and 10 e-commerce advertisements being taken offline. In addition, 56 websites were investigated to force them to either close or cease selling medicines into Ireland.

Commenting today, Dr Lorraine Nolan, HPRA Chief Executive, emphasised the health risks of purchasing medicines from illegal sources, highlighting in particular the issues pertaining to unprescribed anabolic steroids.


“We have detained almost half a million dosage units of illegal medicines since the start of the year which is concerning. Falsified medicines and medical devices can appear legitimate, but we can’t stress enough that there are simply no guarantees as to what is contained in these products. Members of the public are putting their health at significant risk by buying medicines from unverified and unregulated sources. Laboratory analysis of products detained has shown that these illicit medicines often contain too little or too much of the active ingredient. They have also been found to contain harmful or undeclared substances. Under the law, the supply of prescription medicines by mail order (including the internet) is prohibited. Today’s results demonstrate the importance of national and international collaboration amongst enforcement agencies to prevent potentially dangerous medicines from reaching the public.

Supply of anabolic steroids from online sources continues to be prevalent in Ireland, in addition to face-to-face sales. We are very concerned that consumers are purchasing anabolic steroids from illegal suppliers without awareness or knowledge of the potentially serious consequences for their health and wellbeing. We advise that people should not use anabolic steroids unless prescribed for them by a doctor for a medical reason as misuse of these products can cause serious physical and psychological health issues,” Dr Nolan says.

“The HPRA has launched a campaign entitled “ZeroGains”, which aims to highlight these health risks. Our new website www.zerogains.ie provides trustworthy information on the real risks of anabolic steroid use. It also provides practical advice to help anyone who is suffering from health issues associated with use and provides details on how members of the public can report concerns to us about the illegal sale and supply of anabolic steroids”, she concludes.

The support of Operation Pangea by social media and technology companies, the electronic payments sector and the pharmaceutical industry highlights the significant collaboration now taking place between the health product regulators, law enforcement agencies and the private sector in combating the illegal supply of medicines and medical devices.

Operation Pangea aims to highlight to the public the risks involved in the illegal online supply of prescription medicines, in particular, and non-compliant medical devices, many of which are from dubious sources while others are falsified/counterfeit.

Operation Pangea has grown extensively since it first took place in 2008 involving, at that time, just eight countries, including Ireland. Operation Pangea XI was coordinated by Interpol, together with the World Customs Organisation (WCO), the Permanent Forum on International Pharmaceutical Crime (PFIPC), the European Heads of Medicines Agencies Working Group of Enforcement Officers (WGEO), the Pharmaceutical Security Institute and Europol.




Siobhan Molloy/Jo Twamley                  Tel: (01) 679 8600

Weber Shandwick PR                            086 817 5066/ 085 143 8320


The Health Products Regulatory Authority (HPRA) protects and enhances public health and animal health by regulating medicines, medical devices and other health products. The products under its remit include human and veterinary medicines, medical devices, blood and blood components, tissues and cells, organs for transplantation and cosmetics.  Notes to Editor:

  1. Counterfeit medicinal products are now known as ‘falsified medicinal products’ in accordance with amendments to the EU legislation on medicines for human use ((Directive 2001/83/EC) that came into force in 2013.
  2. The Mail Order of prescription medicines, including internet supply, is prohibited in Ireland. No internet pharmacy authorised in another country is permitted to supply prescription medicines to consumers in Ireland. Consequently, any legitimate online pharmacy that may be authorised to act as such in another country may not supply a person in Ireland. Furthermore, any online outlet offering to supply a prescription medicine without the need for a prescription is not a legitimate pharmacy in any EU Member State, and if it so supplies, it will be acting in breach of Irish legislation.
  3. Since June 2015, anyone who wishes to sell non-prescription medicines over the internet in Ireland must register with the Pharmaceutical Society of Ireland and be entered on to the approved Internet Supply List.
  4. New EU-wide measures are being introduced from early next year that further protect patients from fake medicines. A special new barcode will be displayed on medicine packs which, when scanned by the pharmacist at point of dispensing, will enable them to check that the medicine is legitimate.The barcode on the pack links to a central database of barcodes managed by the Irish Medicines Verification Organisation (www.imvo.ie). When the barcode details are validated with the database during the scan, the pharmacist is assured that the medicine is authentic. Further information can be obtained from the IMVO.

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