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Löger: “Medicinal products smuggling puts the nation’s health at risk” BMF customs authority: around 10 tonnes, 1,125 packages and 430,000 items secured, mainly potency enhancers, sleeping pills and painkillers; more nootropics than diet pills

In the middle of September, in the course of checks carried out by the Höchst customs office on the Swiss-Austrian border, customs officers inspected a minibus with a Swiss number plate which was about to enter the EU. When the German driver was asked whether there were any goods to declare in the minibus, he said that there were some old engine parts in the vehicle but that he would be re-exporting these. He also said that he just wanted to refuel the vehicle and then leave the EU. The customs officers found two sports bags in the vehicle, which the driver said he was supposed to hand over to a workmate. When asked what was in the two bags, the young man said he didn’t know – he just had to take them to his workmate.

When the experienced customs officers inspected the bags, they made quite a find: valuable and extremely powerful testosterone-containing drugs, in the form of 700 ampoules and 800 tablets, with an estimated value of over € 20,000 were recovered. The goods were seized and criminal proceedings have been started. 

The seizing of these items represents a major success for the officers of the Höchst customs office in the fight against the banned importing and distribution of performance-enhancing substances. Since January 2018 the total volume of “doping” drugs and substances of this type recorded throughout Austria has roughly doubled (to about 3,500 items).  

“I congratulate the Höchst customs officers on this successful operation,” said Finance Minister Hartwig Löger, expressing his pride at the excellent work done by the officials at the Vorarlberg border. “Obviously it is a sad fact that it is precisely the people who as sports enthusiasts care about their health, and who want to enhance it, that are rashly exposing their bodies to the risk of substances which are harmful to their health.” Finance Minister Löger went on to point out that there is insufficient knowledge concerning the production and quality assurance conditions of smuggled goods. 

A total of 1,457 seizures of medicinal items in Austria in the first eight months of 2018

From the beginning of the year up to the end of August, the total number of seizures of smuggled medicinal goods recorded by the customs administration throughout Austria reached 1,457. From January to August 2018 a total of 9,698 kg, 1,125 packages and 430,000 items of medicinal goods were withdrawn from circulation.

“These are impressive figures,” says Finance Minister Löger. “Our customs officers are making an important contribution to the health of the population.”

As in the past, the majority of the medicinal products and health preparations seized by customs are potency and fertility enhancing products. These represent around 35% of total goods seized, ahead of hypnotics and tranquilisers and ahead of painkillers and anti-inflammatory drugs (around 15% in each case). Joint strengthening and bone protection supplements are also popular smuggled items, accounting for around 10% of all items seized.  

“With regard to food supplements, products which enhance mental performance in particular, and which are supposed to act on the central nervous system, are now outstripping the previous classic smuggled items, such as diet pills,” says Gerhard Marosi, an expert in product piracy in the Finance Ministry. These products, which are classed as nootropics, represent 8% of all seizures of smuggled medicinal products. “It remains to be seen how this situation will develop. One thing is certain: the lack of knowledge regarding the ingredients, production methods and marketing of smuggled medicines and health products ought to stop anyone from buying such items from any source other than our pharmacies,” is Marosi’s warning about the risks of using products of indeterminate origin. 

“It should certainly make us all stop and think – particularly if our customs officers are seizing cancer drugs, or sleeping pills that are intended for children,” says Löger, clearly shocked at the range of medicinal products and substances seized. 

Apart from the treatment errors that may arise in connection health products purchased without medical expertise and without consulting a medical practice or pharmacy, smuggled drugs are often ineffective or contaminated – simply because they are counterfeit. 

Counterfeit drugs are produced, warehoused and transported by unscrupulous profiteers (operating almost entirely on an underground basis) under conditions which do not begin to meet the standards applied within the pharmaceutical industry. The result is often medicinal products that are contaminated with harmful substances, or are incorrectly dosed, or even ineffective.

Such counterfeit medicines are marketed via online portals which give consumers an impression of genuineness and seriousness. In fact, in most cases what lies behind these illegal practices is organised crime, the perpetrators of which have no consideration for the damage they are doing to the health and finances of the customers they are deceiving, or for the consequential costs for society as a whole. In 2017, more counterfeit medicines were seized by the customs authorities than ever before – 54,895 items in total. 

“Smuggling medicinal products is regarded by criminals as a lucrative business, and by many private individuals as a trivial offence,” is how Gerhard Marosi sums up the general attitude to the smuggling of medicinal products. “Unfortunately it is often forgotten that it is impossible to determine whether the quality standards that we rightly demand in connection with health products have also been applied in the case of smuggled goods. In the interest of our own health, we ought not to be exposing ourselves to this risk,” warns Marosi.

9 October 2018