PEOPLE who may be considering attempting to buy medicines over the internet during the coronavirus pandemic could die as a result of taking unprescribed drugs, Health Minister Robin Swann has warned.
Around 140,000 illegal and unlicensed tablets and other medicinal products were seized, including human hormone treatments, diazepam, pregabalin and the stimulant modafinil.
In statement on Thursday Mr Swann said: “Now more than ever people may be looking to the internet to source medicines and I would urge the public not to be misled by professional looking websites offering medicines without a prescription.
“Taking short cuts and using these medicines could expose you to a dangerous counterfeit or substandard medicine, people are often unaware of the potentially fatal consequences of taking these unprescribed medicines and drugs.
“This problem is not something we can tackle in isolation and it is through inter-agency collaboration with our colleagues in Police, Border Force and Department of Justice that we can tackle the problem of illegal medicines entering our communities.
“Operation Pangea has shown that the illicit medicines recovered were destined for addresses throughout Northern Ireland leaving none of our communities immune from the dangers presented by drugs like these.”
The comments came after it emerged an operation carried out by the Organised Crime Task Force (OCTF) partners resulted in the disruption of the supply of drugs purchased online.
The action, which is part of a global Operation Pangea XIII, resulted in multiple packages containing around 140,000 tablets being seized.
Operation Pangea XIII took place in a week of action between 3-10 March 2020 and involved many countries, acting together to safeguard public health.
The INTERPOL coordinated actions aimed to disrupt the illicit online supply of medicines as well as raising awareness of the significant health risks associated with buying medicines from illegal websites and social media platforms.
Naomi Long, Justice Minister and Chair of the Organised Crime Task Force, said: “Drugs destroy people’s lives. This is why the collective work of the OCTF partners is vitally important.
“It is encouraging that the supply of illicit medicines has been disrupted and that so many drugs have been removed from circulation in Northern Ireland.
“We’re using the outcomes of Operation Pangea to highlight, not only the benefits of working together locally and globally, but to reinforce messages to the public about the dangers to health of taking dangerous medications bought online.”
Speaking about the operation, Detective Superintendent Rachel Shields, Chair of the OCTF Drug Sub Group said: “On a daily basis, officers from the Police Service of Northern Ireland work to restrict the supply of counterfeit and unlawful prescription drugs through seizures of drugs and arresting those responsible for supplying them.
“Operation Pangea is a really excellent example of statutory partners working together at a local, national and international level to achieve a shared common goal of reducing the harm caused by drugs within our communities.
“We do this all year round, and will continue to do so, however this week long operation highlights what we achieve when stakeholders work collaboratively.
“The misuse of prescription drugs and the deaths that result from it cannot be solved by policing alone, however police will continue to play their part by disrupting the supply of harmful drugs by making seizures and arresting those involved, as well as continuing to proactively investigate the Organised Crime Groups who supply them in order to fund their criminal activities.”
John-Jo Oldham, Assistant Director Border Force for Northern Ireland, said: “Border Force is alive to the threat posed by the importation of unlicensed medicines and works with partners like PSNI to tackle the issue. Intensification exercises like Op Pangea help to combat this illicit trade.”
Key partner agencies across Northern Ireland, working together under the auspices of the Organised Crime Task Force (OCTF) included PSNI, Border Force and Department of Health medicines’ regulators.
Their coordinated activities resulted in the seizure of multiple packages destined for or recovered from addresses throughout Northern Ireland.
The OCTF was established in 2000 and works to reduce the harm caused by organised crime, through multi agency partnership and to secure a safe community in Northern Ireland, where we respect the law and each other.
OCTF provides an essential strategic leadership forum for tackling organised crime in Northern Ireland.
Partner agencies in the Drugs Group include: Department of Justice, Police Service of Northern Ireland, Department of Health, Public Prosecution Service, An Garda Síochána, Immigration Enforcement, Border Force, National Crime Agency, Her Majesty’s Revenue & Customs and Forensic Services NI
More information about the work of the OCTF can be found at www.octf.gov.uk