Europol sting nets €64 Million in fake medicines

Europol crackdown on fake medicines

Illegal medicines seized. Credit:

In a sweeping crackdown between April and October 2023, a coalition of law enforcement, customs, and health agencies from 30 countries joined forces in the fight against the trafficking of counterfeit and misused medicines.

Dubbed Operation SHIELD, the initiative was spearheaded by a steering group from France, Greece, Italy and  Spain, with the Guardia Civil playing a crucial role. The operation’s efforts were bolstered by several European institutions, including the European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF), and resulted in significant seizures valued at over €64 million.

The battle against counterfeits

Spain’s involvement through the Guardia Civil underscored the operation’s comprehensive approach, targeting not only the trafficking networks but also the online platforms facilitating these illegal sales.

The operation revealed the disturbing trend of social media being used to market doping substances, especially to amateur athletes.

Global threat to public health

The trafficking of pharmaceuticals has emerged as a lucrative venture for organised crime, posing significant risks to public health and burdening healthcare systems across the EU. The operation uncovered a disturbing pattern of large-scale trafficking, with the sale of counterfeit medicines leading to severe health consequences.

Operation SHIELD IV

The crackdown led to 1,284 individuals being charged, with 296 arrests and 988 prosecutions underway. Authorities dismantled four underground labs, shut down 92 websites, and carried out thousands of inspections and anti-doping controls. These efforts underscore the scale of the problem and the determination of the authorities to combat it.

Highlights and key seizures

Among the notable successes were the dismantling of a criminal network in Greece trafficking unauthorised pharmaceuticals and medical devices, and an underground lab in San Marino uncovered by Italian authorities. These operations seized vast quantities of illegal pharmaceuticals, including over 12 million tablets and pills.

The misuse of medicines for purposes beyond medical supervision continues to be a persistent issue. From the diversion of medications to the circulation of counterfeits, the consequences of this illicit trade are far-reaching, affecting individuals and healthcare systems alike.

Operation SHIELD IV marks a significant step forward in the fight against the trafficking of counterfeit and misused medicines. With the collaboration of international agencies, the operation highlights the ongoing battle to safeguard public health and integrity in the pharmaceutical sector.

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Written by

John Ensor

Originally from Doncaster, Yorkshire, John now lives in Galicia, Northern Spain with his wife Nina. He is passionate about news, music, cycling and animals.