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Health warnings More illegally imported medicines seized

Fluorescent tubes formed into pills and medicines in the shop window of a pharmacy

A pharmacy window - medicines can only be used safely if expert advice is obtained in person, Swissmedic cautions


The Federal Customs Administration seized 1,060 shipments of illegally imported medicines in 2017. Notable was the increase in illegal imports from Eastern Europe, including a 40% rise from Poland.

The number of illegal products confiscated increased slightly on 2016 (1,028), according to a Swiss Agency for Therapeutic Products (Swissmedic) statement on Fridayexternal link.

Erectile stimulants remain at the top of the list of illegally imported substances.

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Confiscated shipments by type of product (2017)

“Once again a large number of medically important medicinal products that are subject to strict prescribing limits (for example prescription-only antibiotics or the very strong painkiller tramadol) were confiscated. The unauthorised import of prescription-only medicinal products such as psychotropic agents [like anti-depressants], antibiotics or preparations for the treatment of acne represents a severe risk to health,” the statement warned.

Like 2016, the majority of illegal shipments were from India, with Singapore and Germany in second and third place. There were also more shipments from Eastern Europe: 13%, compared with 9% in 2016external link. In particular, there was a 40% rise from Poland.

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Origin of illegal imports by continent/country (2017)

Several consignments from the United Kingdom and Poland also contained melanotan, which is billed as a tanning agent but can produce primary side effects that are flu-like in nature and damage the immune and cardiovascular systems, Swissmedic said.

In addition, two packages from the Czech Republic were confiscated that contained counterfeit Reductil, which was withdrawn from the global market in 2009/2010 due to health risks. Swissmedic’s laboratory found the capsules contained false active ingredients (caffeine and synephrine instead of the banned active substance sibutramine). Swissmedic has notified the European and other therapeutic product regulatory agencies of its findings.

+ Read more about illegal diet pills here

“Swissmedic urges people to be particularly wary of online shops that offer prescription-only medicines without a prescription, often using the slogan ‘original preparations at low prices’,” the statement added.

“These shops are a front for generally quite sizable criminal organisations. They supply medicinal products with severe quality deficiencies and no carton or package insert, or counterfeit products that contain too high or too low a dose, or false, undeclared or even no active substances.”


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