Counterfeiting & Seizures

Counterfeit medicines worth millions seized

Coordinated by Europol, authorities seized around 13 million illegal medicines and doping substances in the latest Operation Shield IV. With this campaign, investigators also uncovered criminal networks and underground laboratories in Europe.

For the fourth time, Europol has coordinated Operation Shield to combat the trade in counterfeit, illegal, and misused medicines and doping substances. As Europol has recently released, police and customs authorities from 19 EU member states and 11 other countries1 confiscated goods worth over 60 million euros between April and October 2023. This is a significant increase on the seizures made in 2022, which were estimated to be worth around 40 million euros. The number of suspects arrested has even more than doubled compared to the previous year, reaching around 1,300 arrests.

During a total of around 4,000 inspections, the officials confiscated around 12 million tablets, approximately 600,000 packages of illegal pharmaceuticals, and over 120,000 vials and ampoules, among other things, the authorities say. The officials also carried out around 8,000 anti-doping controls. According to the authorities, they also took action against counterfeit medicines online, shutting down over 90 websites in total.

Officials in Greece, for example, broke up a criminal network that had apparently been trading in unauthorized medicines and medical equipment since 2019. According to the authorities, the confiscated products included counterfeit Botox and vitamin acid preparations, which were allegedly imported mainly from Turkey and Poland. The group reportedly then sold them in various regions of Greece.

As part of Shield IV, a number of clandestine laboratories were also identified and closed. For example, on the Italian peninsula, where Italian authorities took action against a group operating from San Marino. In a rural area, an underground lab had been used to manufacture, label, and package doping substances. The police confiscated large quantities of vials, tablets, capsules, and packaging containing doping substances, which were presumably intended for sale in Italy.

Europol considers counterfeit and otherwise illegal medicines to be a growing problem in the European Union. The potentially highly lucrative business with these prohibited substances is attracting more and more criminal groups. What’s more, illegal dealers would target non-professional athletes and private sports groups with adverts for illegal doping substances, particularly on social media platforms. The agency also notes an alarming trend in the trade in counterfeit medicines, illegally traded tranquillizers, and counterfeit diabetes medication, for example.

The fourth Operation Shield was led by law enforcement authorities from France, Greece, Italy, and Spain. The authorities were supported by the European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF), the European Union Intellectual Property Office (EUIPO), the European Border and Coast Guard Agency (Frontex), the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), and various national drug agencies.


EU member states: Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Lithuania, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovak Republic, Slovenia, Spain. Other countries: Albania, Bosnia Herzegovina, Colombia, Georgia, Iceland, North Macedonia, Norway, Serbia, Switzerland, United Kingdom, United States.




Article in cooperation with the Anti-Piracy Analyst


Sabine Carrell, International Communications Manager at SCRIBOS

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