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14,000 fake drug websites targeted
More than 14,000 websites selling counterfeit or stolen medicine have either been shut down or suspended in the last two years by authorities tackling their trafficking, new figures show.
The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) said that as well as taking action against the websites, medical drugs worth £25 million had been seized over the last five years.
The MHRA is launching a new three-year campaign targeting patient and consumer safety and seeking to increase the pressure on people offering the fake drugs for sale both on and offline.
The figures were revealed days after Martin Hickman, a tycoon who made a fortune selling fake Viagra tablets, was ordered to pay back more than £14 million or face 10 years in jail.
Nimo Ahmed, the MHRA's acting head of enforcement, said: "The UK market for medicines is immense and is estimated to be worth around £8,000 million. Combating the real and present threat posed by counterfeit medical products continues to remain a priority for the MHRA."
The MHRA said that in 2010 a "co-ordinated international operation" aimed at illegal online medicine supply saw more than two million doses being seized globally, almost 500 websites taken down and 90 people arrested.
Last year it said the website figure rocketed to more than 13,500 and 2.5 million doses of medicines seized. In March this year, a joint operation across Europe saw 300,000 doses of medicines seized.
In its new Falsified Medical Products Strategy 2012/15 the agency said that since 2007 the number of fake drugs getting through into circulation has fallen, but that it and the UK Border Agency are "seizing record levels of falsified medical products destined for supply through unregulated websites".
Last Friday Hickman, 52, of Ashton-Under-Lyne, Greater Manchester, was ordered by a judge at Southwark Crown Court in London to pay back £14.4 million made by selling unlicensed Viagra-like erectile dysfunction drugs over the internet.
Investigators found that his website, MSH World Traders, had a turnover of £6.1 million in just three years and made him a profit of £3.4 million. But some of the pills he was buying from India and selling to clients all over Europe were fakes, made to look like the licensed Viagra product, and others were not legal to sell in the UK.