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Prescription Drugs

Question for Department of Health

UIN 220047, tabled on 7 January 2015

To ask the Secretary of State for Health, what estimate his Department has made of the annual value of the market in the UK of the illicit sale of pharmaceuticals; and what steps he is taking to restrict that market.

Answered on

14 January 2015

In the United Kingdom, there are strict legal controls on the retail sale, supply and advertisement of medicinal products and these controls apply equally to medicines sold or supplied via internet or e-mail transactions.

Illegal trading in medicines and medical devices can have a direct impact on the health of the UK public and consequently breaches in legislative requirements are taken very seriously. The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) has responsibility for enforcing medicines legislation and during the course of last year received over 4,500 reports of suspect activity involving medicines and medical devices, 270 of which led to a criminal investigation.

There are no figures to quantify the total value of illegal trading in medicines but during 2014, 4,512 packages containing an estimated 6,028,538 doses were seized by the MHRA at the UK Border. The MHRA has estimated that seizures from April 2014 to date have a likely re-sale value of £11.5 million – this includes £9.5 million seized during Operation Pangea.

MHRA works closely with UK Border Force and joint exercises which targeted imports from countries known to source non-compliant medicines have been undertaken. Training to identify suspicious trading in medicines has been provided to UKBF personnel and a national Strategic Threat Assessment on pharmaceutical crime is being developed.

MHRA monitors the internet for websites operating outside legal requirements and, in collaboration with Internet Service Providers, takes steps to close down sites both in the UK and abroad.

MHRA also works with industry and other stakeholders to identify illegal activity involving medicines and hosts both Falsified Medicines and Pharmaceutical Industry Stakeholder Groups.

MHRA actions aim to tackle both supply and, equally important, demand for illegally traded medicines and has instigated a number of public awareness campaigns delivered by the MHRA and also by MHRA in conjunction with other stakeholders such as the General Pharmaceutical Council, patient groups and the pharmaceutical industry.

New requirements for wholesalers and distributors of medicines introduced by the Falsified Medicines Directive were implemented in the UK in August 2013 and strengthen controls on the regulated supply chain.

Answered by

Department of Health and Social Care