The seizure of over 90,000 tablets destined for addresses throughout Northern Ireland has left our community a safer place, Justice Minister Naomi Long has said.
The Minister was speaking after a collaborative Organised Crime Task Force operation, part of the Global Operation Pangea XIV 2021, saw multiple packages of tablets and other unlicensed medicines with a street value of over £100,000 intercepted and seized.
Among the drugs recovered were diazepam, pregabalin, methadone, modafinil and prescription painkillers.
During follow-up searches seven people were arrested in connection with the seizures and investigations are ongoing.
Operation Pangea XIV took place in a week of action from 18-25 May 2021 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 raise awareness of the significant health risks associated with buying medicines counterfeit and illicit pharmaceuticals and medical devices on the Internet.
Naomi Long, Justice Minister and Chair of the Organised Crime Task Force said: “I am greatly encouraged by the commitment and co-operation that exists between our law enforcement agencies and government departments.
“Working together we can help bring to justice the criminals who prey on people’s vulnerabilities and ill-health. All too often lives are blighted by drug addiction and the criminals who line their pockets to take advantage of that. This can have devastating consequences on so many levels, not only for the individual but for their families too.
“I commend everyone involved in what has been a hugely successful operation. The drugs that have been removed from circulation by this operation means our communities are safer places today.”
Health Minister Robin Swann said: “The risk to the public due to illegal or counterfeit medicines is very real. 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 operation has involved the coordinated efforts of a number of agencies including the PSNI, Border Force and medicines enforcement officers from my Department, who will continue to be diligent all year round in their efforts and are determined to combat this serious problem. I urge the public not to be fooled by professional looking websites offering cut-price medicines without prescription which could expose you to a dangerous counterfeit or substandard medicine.”
Speaking about the operation, Detective Chief Superintendent John McVea, Head of Criminal Investigation Branch, PSNI said: “Operation Pangea sends a clear message to those intent on supplying counterfeit and unlawful prescription drugs in Northern Ireland, that we will do everything in our collective power to disrupt and prevent their importation and supply.
“The harnessing of the skills and assets of partners at a local, national and international level is a prime example of how we can achieve the common goal to reduce the risks and harm associated with buying what people think are medicines, online. Working with all of our partners in the Organised Crime Task Force, this operation has restricted the supply of counterfeit and unlawful prescription drugs and allows us to develop harm reduction strategies to keep people safe.
“As a Police Service we will continue to play our part to prevent the importation and supply of illicit and counterfeit drugs by proactively investigating those Organised Crime Groups who supply them and this operation clearly highlights what can be achieved when the activity of key partners is combined and targeted against an issue that can have devastating consequences.”
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. We work with partners like PSNI and the Medicines Regulatory Group to tackle the issue throughout the year. 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.