Illegal imports 2021: Swissmedic seizes significantly more packages than in 2020

Bern, 19.02.2022 - Swissmedic and the Federal Office for Customs and Border Security (FOCBS) secured 9,421 packages containing illegally imported medicinal products during 2021. As before, the majority of the products seized were potency preparations. The majority of cases were dealt with using the simplified procedure and the medicines in question were destroyed. In a new development, criminal intermediaries in Poland have become the primary source of goods from Asia. Half of illegally sold preparations do not contain what they claim to contain! Taking medicinal products that have been ordered without a prescription or with a sham online prescription is dangerous to health.

In 2021, Swissmedic and the Swiss customs authorities dealt with 9,421 packages of illegally imported medicinal products. This is a significant increase on the previous year, when there were 6,733 such packages. Swissmedic dealt with 9,028 cases. In 393 cases, FOCBS employees passed packages containing narcotic medicinal products straight to the cantonal authorities responsible for prosecuting narcotics cases.

The number of seized packages containing illegal erectile stimulants remained roughly the same as in 2020. Potency preparations account for around three quarters (77%) of confiscated packages. Other preparations secured included prescription-only medicines, such as hormones and anti-inflammatories (17%) or sleeping tablets and tranquillisers (5%).

Around 150 of the packages that were seized were connected with the COVID-19 pandemic. These contained prohibited quantities of prescription-only medicinal products, including anti-parasitics containing ivermectin, medicinal products containing hydroxychloroquine or antibiotics from India.

Swissmedic procedures for destroying illegal medicines

Swissmedic was able to deal with the majority – 8,607 – of the illegal imports under a simplified procedure that involves destroying the products. Swissmedic also undertook ordinary administrative proceedings in 183 cases, the costs of which were charged to the intended recipients, and legal proceedings were initiated in 122 cases (113 by Swissmedic and 9 by the FOCBS). Swissmedic referred 166 “mixed packages” of narcotic and other medicinal products to the Cantons, which are responsible for such cases.

Countries of origin: Poland overtakes Asian countries

Poland has overtaken the countries of Asia to become the first European country to top the country-of-origin rankings. However, the contents of the packages of potency preparations from Poland that were seized were all erectile stimulants manufactured in India. Swissmedic suspects that new illegal distribution channels have been set up after the authorities successfully shut down the transit route via Singapore in October 2020 as part of the internationally coordinated “Hydra” operation.

International cooperation is key

Information and cooperation at national and international level are crucial in prosecuting therapeutic product-related offences. Swissmedic is part of a global network of medicinal product control authorities. In addition to Europol’s Shield II and Stop II operations against illegal online therapeutic products trading, Swissmedic joined the FOCBS and Swiss Sport Integrity (formerly Antidoping Schweiz) in taking part in Operation Pangea, the international effort coordinated by Interpol.

Warning against allegedly Swiss online pharmacies run by criminals

Online shops repeatedly give the deliberate impression that they are selling goods from Switzerland. When conducting procedures, Swissmedic frequently finds that the people buying the products believed they had ordered on a website belonging to a Swiss pharmacy.

In reality, they are being specifically targeted and deceived. By displaying Swiss flags and the logos of well-known Swiss companies (such as Swiss Post), by giving Swiss-franc (CHF) prices and showing automatically generated, fictitious customer feedback from Switzerland, these web shops lead customers to believe they are dealing with an authorised Swiss mail-order pharmacy.

Steer clear of medicinal products from dubious sources

Anyone who uses medicinal products obtained through uncontrolled online channels is running a major health risk. Medicines from dubious sources that are a front for criminal networks are often supplied without a box or package leaflet and do not warrant the purported cost savings. In fact, medicines with the wrong active substance content or potentially dangerous constituents are damaging to health. Never take a risk. Only products obtained through monitored distribution channels are safe, effective and of good quality.

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Swiss Agency for Therapeutic Products