November 20, 2009
Contact: DEA Public Affairs
(202) 307-7977

Global Operation Targets Illegal Importation of Pharmaceuticals
24 Countries, DEA Take Part in ICE-led Operation Pangea II

NOV 20 -- (WASHINGTON) - An international week of action targeting the Internet sale of counterfeit and illicit medicines and its threat to public health has resulted in many arrests and the seizure of thousands of potentially harmful medical products across five continents. 

In the United States, five agencies including the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) conducted operations from Nov. 16-20 at mail facilities throughout the United States, targeting counterfeit, substandard or tainted drugs coming into the United States. The National Intellectual Property Rights Coordination Center (IPR Center), part of the U. S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), coordinated the involvement of Federal agents and officers from ICE, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), the DEA, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the U.S. Postal Inspection Service (USPIS).

Agents and officers targeted over 7,000 suspect packages at international mail centers in New York; Newark, New Jersey; Miami; Memphis, Tennessee; Louisville, Kentucky; Cincinnati; and San Francisco, resulting in 724 packages being detained for further examination. Of those, 48 have been formally seized to date. In addition to these examinations, the FDA issued 22 Warning Letters about illegal activity occurring on 136 independent websites that are now posted on the FDA’s website. To date, 90 of those websites or domain names have been permanently suspended.

Involving a record 24 countries and co-ordinated under the umbrella of INTERPOL and the World Health Organization's (WHO) International Medical Products Anti-Counterfeiting Taskforce (IMPACT), Operation Pangea II involved law enforcement agencies from the participating countries as well as the Permanent Forum on International Pharmaceutical Crime (PFIPC), the Universal Postal Union (UPU) and the World Customs Organization (WCO).

During the operation, international Internet monitoring revealed 751 Websites engaged in illegal activity, including some offering controlled or prescription-only drugs, 72 of which have now been taken down. Worldwide, more than 16,000 packages were inspected by regulators and customs, 995 packages were seized and nearly 167,000 illicit and counterfeit pills—including antibiotics, steroids, lifestyle drugs and diet pills—were confiscated. A total of 22 individuals are under investigation for a range of offenses, including illegally selling and supplying unlicensed or prescription-only medicines.

“Counterfeit pharmaceuticals pose a significant threat to the public’s health and safety and must be targeted by coordinated global law enforcement action,” said John Morton, Department of Homeland Security Assistant Secretary for ICE. “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.”

“DEA stands firm with our domestic and international partners in our commitment to halt drug-related cyber-crime,” stated acting DEA Administrator Michele M. Leonhart.  “Operation Pangea II sends a clear message that the international community will not tolerate criminal profit-making through illegal on-line drug sales.  Together, we are determined to strip the mask of anonymity from fraudulent global e-commerce and to expose Internet crimes that threaten the welfare of our citizens.”

“CBP is pleased to have assisted with Operation Pangea II resulting in numerous seizures of counterfeit and potentially harmful pharmaceuticals.  International collaboration and interagency cooperation is essential to protecting U.S. consumers and enforcing intellectual property rights in a global trading environment,” said U.S. Customs and Border Protection Acting Commissioner Jayson Ahern. 

“The FDA works in close collaboration with our regulatory and law enforcement counterparts in the United States and throughout the world to protect the public,” said Commissioner of Food and Drugs Margaret A. Hamburg, M.D. “Many U.S consumers are being misled in the hopes of saving money by purchasing prescription drugs over the Internet from illegal pharmacies. Unfortunately, these drugs are often counterfeit, contaminated, unapproved products, or contain an inconsistent amount of the active ingredient. Taking these drugs can pose a danger to consumers.” 

“The Postal Service  is committed to combating counterfeit pharmaceutical schemes,” said Chief Postal Inspector William R. Gilligan, Jr.  “The U.S. Postal Inspection Service continues efforts to rid the mail of illicit drug trafficking and provide a safe environment for postal employees and the American public.”  

Operation Pangea II marks the second time that action has been taken on an international scale with participating countries including Canada, Germany, Ireland, Israel, New Zealand, Singapore and Switzerland in addition to the U.K. and United States. This year, the operation was extended from a day of action to a week of activities.

The DEA’s Office of Diversion Control is responsible for two distinct problems: the diversion of controlled pharmaceuticals and the diversion of controlled chemicals. The Internet has become one of the fastest growing methods of diverting controlled pharmaceuticals through many so-called “pharmacy” sites. These rogue Internet sites are not there to benefit the public, but to generate millions in illegal sales. Operations like Pangea II are one of the ways the DEA works with international partners to protect the public.