EU Authorities Dismantle Sham Medicine Trafficker Groups

Published: 21 December 2022

Europol Medicine SeizedAmong items seized were hormonal supplements, doping substances, sanitary products, erectile dysfunction medicines, and fake COVID vaccines. (Photo: Europol, License)

By Inci Sayki

Targeting the global trade of illicit pharmaceuticals, European customs authorities have seized over 40 million EUR (US$42.5 million) worth of fake and misused pharmaceuticals, doping products, illegal hormonal and sport supplements, forged COVID vaccines and medicines for erectile dysfunction, Europol announced on Monday.

Dubbed “Operation Shield”, the EU-wide effort resulted in the dismantling of 59 organized crime groups, as well as the arrests or reporting of 349 individuals suspected of diverting the legitimate pharma supply chain.

The operation intercepted over 10.5 million units of medicine, mostly doping substances and erectile dysfunction medicines, Europol found.

Additionally, authorities shut down 10 underground labs with “questionable hygienic circumstances and safety measures” where the illicit pharmaceuticals were cooked up.

“In the course of the operation, many cases of large-scale medicine trafficking were uncovered, confirming that it can be as lucrative as or even more lucrative than narcotics trafficking,” Europol’s statement said.

The European police agency said that while the trade makes massive gains for criminal groups, the toll it takes on the social care systems, finances, and public health of EU member states are just as significant, “be it because of treatment of addictive behaviors or the consequences of overdoses or stock shortage.”

Within the operations’ scope over one million fake COVID tests were seized. Although criminals are still taking advantage of trafficking opportunities offered by the pandemic, COVID-related trafficking has gone down, the European police agency found, attributing it to intense governmental oversight and free vaccines.

This is the third Shield Operation over the course of the past two years. It was led by France, Spain, Greece and Italy, and involved the police and customs authorities from 28 countries, 19 of which were EU member states.