Seizures of counterfeit and illicit online prescription medicines praised

Date published: 20 July 2022

Co-operation between law enforcement agencies and government departments has led to the seizure of over 242,000 illegal and unlicensed tablets purchased online and destined for addresses throughout Northern Ireland, Justice Minister Naomi Long said today.

 The Minister, together with the Health Minister Robin Swann and Assistant Chief Constable Mark McEwan PSNI were highlighting Northern Ireland’s input to the global, Interpol co-ordinated Operation Pangea XV, which saw multiple packages of tablets intercepted and seized, with a street value of almost £250k. She praised the concerted efforts made by PSNI, Border Force and officials from the Department of Health Medicines Regulatory Group during a specific week of action in June.

 Naomi Long said: “I am pleased that the Organised Crime Task Force (OCTF) Drugs Sub Group has supported Operation Pangea again this year.  The success of the operation means that hundreds of thousands of illicit tablets have been prevented from being distributed in Northern Ireland and lives have no doubt been saved as a result. Buying medicines from online sites may put people’s physical and mental wellbeing at risk and the criminal networks behind these counterfeit products are making profits by exploiting vulnerable and unsuspecting consumers.”

 Health Minister Robin Swann said:“The illicit medicines recovered during Operation Pangea were destined for addresses throughout Northern Ireland, leaving none of our communities immune from the dangers presented by drugs like these. People who buy from illegal sources do not know where the tablets have originated or what they really contain. My Department’s Medicines Regulatory Group works proactively all year round with its key partners, including Police and Border Force to highlight and curtail this activity when possible and I am grateful for their ongoing commitment. “

  Speaking about the operation, Assistant Chief Constable Mark McEwan said: “Operation Pangea sends a clear message to those involved in the supply of counterfeit and unlawful prescription drugs, that we will do everything in our collective power to disrupt and prevent the importation and supply.

 “I want to warn anyone considering buying drugs online. These unregulated drugs are often produced in illicit, unhygienic laboratories, and are made to look like the genuine product.  On their own or in any combination these drugs are incredibly dangerous to take.

 “We will continue to work in partnership at a local, national and international level, to reduce the risks and harm associated with this illegal and unregulated industry.

 “By working with our partners in the Organised Crime Task Force, this operation has removed a significant amount of incredibly harmful counterfeit and unlawful prescription from our communities. Our investigations and operational activity into those individuals and Organised Crime Groups involved will continue.”

 Darren Brabon, Interim Assistant Director, Border Force said: “Border Force, along with our partners in the Organised Crime Task Force are alive to the threat posed by the importation of unlicenced medicines. Through a collaborative approach we have removed a substantial amount of illicit medicines from reaching the streets.  Intensification exercises like Op Pangea help to combat this illicit trade.”

 The medicines seized included Diazepam, used for anti-anxiety treatment, Pregabalin, used for epilepsy and anxiety, steroids and Zopiclone. Other prescription medicines recovered included Tamoxifen, often used in the treatment of breast cancer and Salbutamol inhalers, frequently used in the treatment of asthma.

Notes to editors: 

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.

 2. OCTF provides an essential strategic leadership forum for tackling organised crime in Northern Ireland.

 3. Partner agencies in the Drugs Sub Group include: Department of Justice, Police Service of Northern Ireland, Department of Health, Public Prosecution Service, An Garda Síochána, Border Force, National Crime Agency, Her Majesty's Revenue & Customs and Forensic Services NI.

 4. More information about the work of the OCTF can be found at link opens in a new window / tab)

 5. For media enquiries contact the Department of Justice Press Office at

 6.The Executive Information Service operates an out of hours service for media enquiries only between 1800hrs and 0800hrs Monday to Friday and at weekends and public holidays. The duty press officer can be contacted out of hours on 028 9037 8110.

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