Interpol has carried out a series of raids worldwide which has resulted in a series of arrests and “the seizure of thousands of potentially harmful medical products”.

Operation Pangea II, a week-long initiative involving 24 countries, was coordinated by Interpol and the World Health Organisation's International Medical Products Anti-Counterfeiting Taskforce. Regulators, police and customs officials worked closely together during the crackdown from November 16-20 and focused on “the three principal components used by illegal websites to conduct trade” - the internet service provider, payment systems and the delivery services.

During the operation, internet monitoring revealed 751 websites engaged in illegal activity, including offering controlled or prescription-only drugs, 72 of which have now been taken down. More than 16,000 packages were inspected by regulators and customs, 995 of which were seized and nearly 167,000 illicit and counterfeit pills, including antibiotics, steroids and slimming pills, were confiscated.

Some 22 individuals are currently under investigation for a range of crimes including illegally selling and supplying unlicensed or prescription-only medicines, Interpol added. The agency said it received “significant support” from the Permanent Forum on International Pharmaceutical Crime, the World Customs Organisation, the UK's Medicines and Health Care products Regulatory Agency, the US Food and Drug Administration and Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and Health Canada.

The countries involved in Operation Pangea II were Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Germany, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Liechtenstein, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, Singapore, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Thailand, the UK and the USA.

Interpol secretary general Ronald Noble said that the crackdown “will prove again that the internet is not an anonymous safe haven for those who use it for criminal purposes”. He added that “we hope that by raising public awareness about the dangers of illegal internet pharmacies, consumers will exercise greater care when purchasing medicines on the internet”.