Purveyors of ‘fake pharma’ are punished by an international coalition

November 20, 2009 § Leave a comment

The counterfeit pharmaceutical industry was just slipped a mickey, care of the international law enforcement community.

It was banner week for a global coalition combating the sale of sham pharmaceuticals on the Internet. A group of agencies from 24 countries came together for five days in “Operation Pangea II,” an effort to curb web sales of counterfeit and illicit medicines that resulted in several arrests and the seizure of thousands of harmful products.

The weeklong operation, which began on November 16th, dismantled 72 websites, confiscated 167,000 illicit and counterfeit pills, and left 22 individuals under investigation in its wake, according to an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) press release.

The domestic team was a veritable acronym stew of U.S. organizations, an alphabet-agency soup, with contributions from the FDA, the DEA, ICE, USPIS (Postal Inspection Service), and the CBP (Customs and Border Protection).

On the international side, under the larger umbrella of INTERPOL and the World Health Organization’s (WHO) nimbly-titled International Medical Products Anti-Counterfeiting Taskforce (IMPACT, inviting the question: what comes first the underlying org or the clever acronym), law enforcement agencies kicked down firewalls and crammed flash bangs into the inboxes of suspected peddlers.

The effort targeted the channels of sale and distribution for black market digital pill pushing. The week began with a group web surf, trolling for dodgy sites that sold the bitter pills, and identified 751 separate locations that were engaged in illegal activity. The USPIS and the Universal Postal Union (UPU) shook the contents of more than16,000 packages and turned up thousands of antibiotics, steroids, diet pills, lifestyle drugs – those that treat baldness, ED, wrinkles or acne – and others.

“Consumers seeking a better price or wanting to buy drugs without a prescription often do not know that the drugs they order through the Internet are often manufactured in inferior facilities, with substandard or dangerous ingredients, and with a high likelihood that they will not perform as expected, or worse, will cause harm,” said John Morton, Department of Homeland Security Assistant Secretary for ICE.

Put a tad more bluntly: when you hustle around dodgy sites looking for cheap deals, you most certainly get what you pay for.

Odds are the bunk pills on these sites weren’t manufactured in the most rigorously sterile of settings. The mixing flasks likely carried a little less, if any, of the active ingredient you had hoped to get, or in the worst possible scenario, that you needed. The Petri dishes were caked with a little grime, and though a little fungus may have worked for Alexander Fleming and his discoveryof penicillin, in the remaining history of positive medical developments, the presence of mold isn’t such a good thing.

In the murk of the digital world, it’s easy to behave like deep-sea creatures snapping at the brightest stimuli. Flashy banner ads touting the lowest possible prices for prescription pills make it easy to lose sight of the nefarious nature of a transaction that, were it to occur in the brick and mortar realm, would involve crumpled brown bags passed in still running cars while both parties glance over their shoulders.

Operation Pangea II is an exemplar for future efforts to fight the fake trade. And while multi-pronged, cooperative initiatives yield fantastic results, those with the greatest power to wipe out this epidemic are the would-be purchasers.

Swim to the surface and buy responsibly.

Read the full story.

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