HPRA detains 673,906 dosage units of illegal medicines in 2016

The Health Products Regulatory Authority (HPRA) today warned of the dangers to health associated with sourcing prescription medicines online as it published details of illegal product detentions for 2016. A total of 673,906 dosage units of falsified and other illegal medicines were detained by the HPRA’s enforcement section during the year compared to 1.1 million units in 2015. The illegal products included sedatives (40%), anabolic steroids (16%) and erectile dysfunction medicines (14%). The HPRA confirms that those behind the websites supplying these products are engaged in illegal activity and it stressed that, from a consumer health perspective, there can be no guarantees about the safety or quality of prescription medicines sourced online. 

The HPRA figures for 2016 published today show that:

  • There was a significant increase in the number of anabolic steroids detained (109,006) compared to 2015 (38,049);
  • There was a reduction in the number of sedative products detained in 2016 (271,545), compared to 2015 (726,164);
  • Six prosecution cases were initiated and 13 voluntary formal cautions issued during the year.


Commenting on the enforcement figures for 2016, John Lynch, Director of Compliance, HPRA said, “It remains a serious concern that people are sourcing medicines from unknown and potentially untrustworthy sources. There is absolutely no guarantee that they contain the type or quantity of active substance they say that they do. In some cases they can contain different substances altogether. They can be very dangerous to human health. We emphasise that, while some sites may appear legitimate, they are, too often, a front for illegal activity.

“We welcome the decrease year on year in the total number of products detained. This can be partly attributed to the ongoing inter-agency approach, both nationally and internationally, to combating the illegal supply of sedative products onto the Irish market, in particular, the prescription medicine, Zopiclone. Notwithstanding this, our figures show that, working with our colleagues from the Revenue’s Customs Service and An Garda Síochána, we detained, on average, more than 1,800 dosage units of illegal medicines per day during 2016.

“It is particularly noteworthy that anabolic steroids accounted for 16 percent of products detained, a significant increase compared to 2015. The misuse of anabolic steroids has been linked to a range of significant side effects including blood clots, headaches, depression, irritability and stomach pain. People are sourcing these products for purposes of performance enhancement and are either unaware of or ignoring the significant dangers posed by these prescription medicines in the absence of medical supervision. As always, we urge people to seek advice from their healthcare professional if they have any concerns about their health.”  

The HPRA is also responsible for prosecuting cases where it considers that there is a significant risk to public health. In 2016, six prosecution cases were initiated while there were also 13 voluntary formal cautions issued. The prosecutions related to the supply of products including slimming medicines, anabolic steroids, and erectile dysfunction medicines. The HPRA also supports prosecutions brought by the Director of Public Prosecutions in relation to the illegal supply of medicines.

The HPRA works in partnership with Revenue’s Customs Service and An Garda Síochána at a national level and with other regulatory and law enforcement agencies worldwide in relation to the illegal manufacture, importation and distribution of medicines, medical devices, cosmetics and other health products.

To inform members of the public about the dangers associated with buying prescription medicines online, the HPRA has published an advice leaflet which is available freely on its website, www.hpra.ie.



For Further Information

Weber Shandwick PR                                    (01) 679 8600 

Siobhan Molloy / Rachel Galligan                 086 817 5066 / 087 7919901

About the Health Products Regulatory Authority

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.

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