Illegal imports of medicinal products: Erectile stimulants account for more than two-thirds

Bern, 08.02.2024 - In 2023, the Federal Office for Customs and Border Security (FOCBS) seized a total of 6,659 illegal medicinal product imports on behalf of Swissmedic, the Swiss Agency for Therapeutic Products. The most frequent illegal imports of medicinal products continue to be erectile stimulants, followed by sleeping tablets and tranquillisers, hormones (including melatonin), nasal sprays and laxatives. Nearly 3,000 (43%) of the consignments seized came from India. These illegal products are shipped from and manufactured in an ever-changing lineup of countries: regulatory authorities and illegal suppliers have been playing cat and mouse for years.

In 2023, the FOCBS seized 6,659 illegal consignments of medicinal products (previous year: 6,793 consignments). For years now, erectile stimulants have accounted for the vast majority of these illegal medicinal products. However, the imported “medications” frequently contain either no active substances or else wrongly declared active substances – and may contain harmful additives. Swissmedic regularly issues warnings about the purchase of medicinal products from dubious sources, especially online shops, because these can be hazardous to health and serve to benefit criminal networks. Furthermore, the safe use of prescription medications requires that patients first hold a personal consultation with a qualified professional.

Regulatory authorities and illegal suppliers playing cat and mouse

Last year, India was the leading country of origin for the consignments seized. However, the main players are subject to change at a moment’s notice, as suppliers of illegal medicinal products alter their practices on a regular basis. They change production and shipment at the last minute, depending on the rules laid down by regulatory authorities. For example, consignments seized from Eastern Europe dropped from 34% to 17% within the space of a year. This was thanks most of all to the success of an internationally coordinated campaign by Polish authorities to track down criminal networks. Subsequently, the delivery channels were moved to India, which offers the added bonus of lower shipping costs compared with Europe.

Cooperative national and international partnerships among regulatory authorities are the key to combating illegal trading in medicinal products. Through legislation, inspections, investigations and international cooperation, they work together to stop illegal trading. In Switzerland, Swissmedic works closely with the FOCBS, Swiss Sport Integrity and the cantons for this purpose. However, consumers also play an important part in blocking international criminal networks by steering clear of products with enticing names and unbelievable promises.

Destruction of illegal medicinal products and administrative proceedings

The simplified procedure was used for 90% (5,986) of the illegal consignments of medicinal products seized. It permits Swissmedic and the FOCBS to protect consumer health by seizing and destroying certain preparations and active ingredients (especially illegal erectile stimulants, slimming products and psychotropic agents). Swissmedic also undertook ordinary administrative proceedings in 185 cases, the costs of which were charged to the intended recipients. The Penal Division handled 41 prosecutions under criminal law for illegal import of medicinal products and passed a further 113 cases involving “mixed packages” of narcotics and other medicinal products to the competent cantonal public prosecutors. The FOCBS handled nine criminal cases and filed 263 charges with the cantonal authorities for illegal imports of medicinal products containing narcotics.

Common sense is the best medicine!

Anyone who uses medicinal products obtained through uncontrolled internet channels or via social media is putting their health at serious risk. Medicines obtained from dubious sources are almost always supplied without boxes or medicinal product information (package leaflets). Moreover, they are delivered without any information about dosage, restrictions on use or possible side effects. In the case of prescription-only medicinal products, only doctors or pharmacists can decide whether these should be used.

Address for enquiries

Media Unit

+41 58 462 02 76


Swiss Agency for Therapeutic Products