Operation PANGEA: Protecting consumers from counterfeit medical products

29 April 2020

As part of Australia’s support to Operation Pangea (coordinated by INTERPOL), ASADA is helping to raise awareness of the risks associated with purchasing medicines and health products from unregulated websites.

The outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic has offered an opportunity for fast cash, as criminals take advantage of the high market demand for personal protection and hygiene products.

Law enforcement agencies taking part in Operation Pangea found 2,000 online links advertising items related to COVID-19. Of these, counterfeit surgical masks were the medical device most commonly sold online, accounting for around 600 cases during the week of action.

Over the past decade at least 11 per cent of medical products sold online are counterfeit and with all regions of the world affected it is important to alert the public of the risks.

Police, customs, regulatory bodies and private sector companies from around the world have worked to prevent potentially dangerous medicines from reaching the public, and have dismantled a number of illegal networks behind these crimes.

Since its commencement in 2008, Operation Pangea has brought about the removal of more than 105 million units (pills, ampoules, sachets, bottles and so on) from circulation, shut down 82,000 websites and made more than 3,000 arrests.

Counterfeit erectile dysfunction medicines accounted for the highest number of seizures under Pangea. Other commonly faked products include anti-depressants, anabolic steroids and medicines used to treat diabetes or cancer.

With the sole aim of making money, organised criminal groups sell illicit medicines online with no regard for health or life. Unauthorised and counterfeit medicines can be dangerous as they may contain the wrong amount of active ingredient (too little, too much, or none at all), or have altered expiration dates. Some fake medicines have even been found to contain mercury, arsenic, rat poison or cement.

The take away message for consumers and for athletes is that you just don’t know what it is you are buying when you purchase these types of products online, and you cannot predict the effect these products will have on your health.

Know the warning signs

Take care when buying medicines online…

Be sure to:

  • buy medicines from a regulated source
  • buy prescription medicines from authorised outlets only.

Avoid a product, or website if:

  • it looks questionable (spelling mistakes, no physical address, or promises such as “no risk”, “perfectly safe”, “totally legal”)
  • the price is suspiciously low
  • the payment can be made only in cryptocurrencies—this is a potential sign of illegal activities.

Do not buy medicines on social network pages, or mobile device applications.

ASADA regularly issues alerts to the Australian sporting community about its concerns over particular substances that may affect the health of athletes, or their sporting career. Related articles posted by ASADA:

Athlete Advisory: Prohibited substance GW1516 – 18 February 2020

Don’t risk using Andarine – 20 December 2019

The ‘natural’ substance banning athletes from sport – 29 October 2019

BLOG: Take supplements "at your own risk" – 14 August 2019

Growing concerns of black market peptides – 13 June 2019