In one week the US Food and Drug Administration identified more than 500 websites illegally selling prescription medicine—including opioids, according to the government.
The operation—which took place between Sept. 12-19—was part of a worldwide effort led by Interpol, a global police organization, to target the illicit online sale of medicine and medical devices. Cracking down on the illegal sale of medication, including opioids, has become a priority for authorities around the world. That’s particularly true in the US, which is currently experiencing an opioid epidemic with an estimated 2.5 million people addicted and over 33,000 dying each year from overdoses.
Overall, more than 400 people were arrested around the world and $51 million in medicine was seized in the global collaboration, which was code named Operation Pangea X.
Authorities confiscated dietary supplements, pain pills, epilepsy medication, erectile dysfunction drugs, anti-psychotics, and nutritional products. In Jordan, dangerous contact lens counterfeits were found and collected. In the Democratic Republic of Congo, more than 650 kg (1,433 lbs.) of anti-malaria pills were seized, according to Interpol.
One of the main themes the agency noticed is the proliferation of unauthorized and unregulated online pharmacies, which often sell medications (including counterfeit versions) illegally.
“With more and more people purchasing everyday items including medicines online, criminals are exploiting this trend to make a profit, putting lives at risk in the process,” said Interpol’s head of police services, Tim Morris in statement.
In all, the operation led to the opening of 1,058 new police investigations, 3,584 websites shuttered, and more than 3,000 online advertisements for illicit pharmaceuticals suspended, according to the agency. A record 123 countries were involved.