Impressive success in the fight against Internet pharmaceutical crime Austrian Ministries of the Interior, Health and Finance workedintensively with worldwide Operation Pangea IX

Project Pangea I began with eight member countries in 2008. The number of members in the fight against pharmaceutical crime has grown rapidly over the years.

In Austria, the Federal Criminal Police Office, Agency for Health and Food Safety (AGES) and Customs worked together on the international week of action in the fight against the sale of illegal medicines on the Internet. Operation Pangea IX took place from 30 May to 7 June 2016 this year, and once again underscored the outstanding cooperation that exists between national and international authorities and agencies. 

In addition to providing protection against counterfeit medical preparations, the operations also focus on finding manufacturers and dealers and shutting down the websites of criminal suppliers. Another goal of the project is to make the public aware of the risks of buying medicines on the Internet. 

Police investigations were coordinated by the Central Unit for Betting Fraud, Doping and Pharmaceutical Crime in the Austrian Federal Criminal Police Office (BK). “We established this unit ourselves as a hub for coordinating the fight against pharmaceutical crime”, stated Austrian Minister of the Interior Wolfgang Sobotka. “This is because a rapid exchange of information between national and international authorities is particularly necessary for the Internet and successful international operations like Pangea.” 

This year's operation allowed the police to create cross-links to proceedings against organised crime that were already pending throughout all of Europe. The research found 19 suspicious Internet suppliers, and Interpol initiated the process of shutting down their websites. An underground laboratory for manufacturing growth hormones and steroids was discovered in Carinthia. Large quantities of finished doping preparations and medical active ingredients and the equipment required to manufacture these prohibited substances were seized in a number of building searches. The preparations were shipped both nationally and internationally. 

“The Austrian Federal Ministry of Health, Austrian Federal Office for Safety in Health Care and AGES have been working together closely and successfully for years with investigators in the Austrian Customs and Federal Criminal Police Office to prevent the import and sale of illegal pharmaceuticals in Austria”, stressed Austrian Minister of Health Sabine Oberhauser. “Illegal and counterfeit medicines are primarily ordered on the Internet. These counterfeit products present an enormous health risk, as they are manufactured under uncontrolled and unverifiable conditions and fail to satisfy the required quality standards. Rat faeces, roadway paint and furniture polish have already been found in counterfeit products. The AGES Medicines and Medical Devices Agency works together with the Austrian Federal Office for Safety in Health Care to monitor and control pharmaceuticals.”

The Official Medicines Control Laboratory (OMCL) is an important part of the Medicines and Medical Devices Agency, whose principle responsibility is testing the quality of medicines in the legal market as well as analysing and assessing suspicious samples from the illegal market. OMCL is a member of the European network of official medicine control laboratories and is accredited in accordance with ISO 17025, the quality standard that ensures accurate, verifiable results. The AGES Medicines and Medical Devices Agency is therefore able to quickly and reliably identify illegal medicines and counterfeits. AGES also has highly specialised employees who identify and stem the flow of illegal and counterfeit pharmaceuticals in the Austrian market. There are plans to use European legislation (Delegated Regulation (EU) 2016/161) to assign individual identifying features to all genuine pharmaceuticals in coming years, so that a special label (QR code) can be used to more easily distinguish genuine products from counterfeits. 

The focus of the Austrian Customs during Pangea IX was on fighting imports of illegal and counterfeit medicines that were ordered online and sent by mail. During the operation, 9,936 pharmaceutical shipments with a value of EUR 7,189 were seized in the postal distribution centre in Vienna-Inzersdorf. 

“The fight against pharmaceutical crime is of great importance to the Austrian Customs, as the health and safety of the population is a top priority for the Ministry of Finance”, stated Austrian Minister of Finance Hans Jörg Schelling. “An outstanding level of professional cooperation exists between employees in the different units, as was once again shown by this project.”

The impressive track record shows that the Pangea project is a clear success that increases justice and security and assists in the international battle against crime.