Counterfeit and unlicensed drugs valued at $40.8m have been seized by the International Criminal Police Organization (Interpol) in a week-long global crackdown on the illegal internet medicines trade.

The operation, conducted between 18 and 25 June in 99 countries, resulted in the closure or suspension of over 9,600 websites selling fake medicines and the arrest of 58 people worldwide.

More than 522,000 packages were inspected by regulators, leading to the seizure of $15m worth of unlicensed and counterfeit products.

Among the fake medicines seized during Operation Pangea VI were antibiotics, cancer medication, anti-depression pills, food supplements and erectile dysfunction tablets.

In the UK, the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency confiscated a record $18.6m of fake medicines, which made up 45.5% of all medicines detained worldwide during the operation.

MHRA acting head of enforcement Nimo Ahmed said: "When people buy medicines from an illegal website they don’t know what they’re getting, where it came from or if it’s safe to take. The dose could be too high or too low, or the ingredients could breakdown incorrectly in the body, which makes the medicine ineffective.

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"We have closed down 1,288 of these illegal websites but people need to take the time to see their GP about any problems they have with their health. People are far more likely to get better faster if they are on the correct course of safely prescribed medication."

Interpol secretary general Ronald K Nobel said that transnational networks are taking advantage of the internet to deceive customers buying dangerous medicines.

"Our partners worldwide have combined their efforts in Interpol’s Operation Pangea VI to fight these organized criminal networks," he said. "Together, they are protecting innocent consumers by shutting down illegitimate online pharmacies, confiscating illegal pharmaceutical products and bringing criminals to justice."

To date, 175 investigations have been launched into a range of offences that include the illegal manufacturing, selling and supplying counterfeit or unlicensed medicines.

Investigations are ongoing, and the final results from Operation Pangea VI will be released upon their conclusion.

Image: Fake viagra was seized in the global police swoop. Photo: courtesy of SElefant.