PRESCRIPTION drugs worth tens of thousands of pounds have been recovered from an Edinburgh flat as part of an international crackdown on counterfeit and unlicensed medicines.
Officials from the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) carried out an early-morning raid at the property in Leith, seizing around £70,000 worth of drugs not licensed for use in the UK.
The action was part of Operation Pangea, an international effort co-ordinated by Interpol which was designed to smash the illegal trade in prescription and over-the-counter medicines.
The operation led to more than £15.7 million worth of counterfeit and unlicensed medicines being seized across the UK, including quantities of illegal slimming pills and drugs to treat conditions such as narcolepsy and erectile dysfunction.
The Edinburgh raid was carried out after intelligence suggested Polish medicines, not licensed for use in the UK, were being sold online from a residential address.
Investigators found a Polish couple operating from a two-bedroom flat, where one of the bedrooms had been turned into a “pharmacy”.
Speaking after the raid, Danny Lee-Frost, head of operations for MHRA: “It’s a two-bedroom flat. One of the bedrooms is turned over to a pharmacy, shelved out with tonnes and tonnes of products, some of which we can immediately recognise as medicines, some of which looks medicinal and others which we’re not sure of.
“The couple in there have admitted they know some of them are medicines, so we bagged those up first. But we don’t know what the rest are. We don’t know which ones are medicines, which are food supplements, and they don’t know either.
“There’s a hell of a lot in there, far more than we expected. We expected a much smaller operation than that.”
Mr Lee-Frost said it was typical to find unregulated Polish medicines being sold in Polish shops and delis.
He added: “There are none of the checks and safeguards in place to protect the customer as a consumer. For instance, what if one of the manufacturers of one of these products did a recall? What if they were really dangerous? The customer over here is not going to know about it. They have to be the authorised product for the country in which they’re sold, otherwise that whole system just collapses.
“Our advice is to not buy medicines over the internet unless you have a prescription and are going to a properly registered and authorised internet pharmacy.”
The Leith raid was part of a month-long international crackdown which took place in 115 countries.
In the UK, MHRA enforcement officers, with assistance from local police, raided known addresses in connection with the illegal internet supply of potentially harmful medicines.
The UK operation also resulted in 1,380 websites being closed down, 339 of which were domestic sites.
MHRA Head of Enforcement Alastair Jeffrey said: “Operation Pangea is the global response to internet facilitated medicines and devices crime. As a result of our intelligence-led enforcement operations we have seized £15.7 million worth of counterfeit and unlicensed medicines and devices in the UK alone – which is almost twice as much as we recorded last year, and clear evidence that this is a growing concern that has to be taken seriously.”
Alex Lawther, from Border Force’s postal command, added: “Border Force regularly detects and seizes illegal and restricted products imported through the postal system including fake and unlicensed medicines. Our involvement in this operation with the MHRA demonstrates our commitment to combat this form of smuggling.
“Our message to the public is simple – don’t buy anything online unless you are certain it comes from a legitimate source.”