Italian mafia infiltrated UK medicines supply chain
Author: Ingrid Torjesen
Criminal gangs linked to the Italian mafia stole prescription medicines and sold them to wholesalers in the UK, a Channel 4 documentary revealed last night.
Some of the medicines which including products for epilepsy and schizophrenia, then ended up in pharmacies across the UK, the Dispatches: How safe are your medicines? documentary reported.
According to the programme, Dr Domenico Di Giorgio, part of the Italian medicines regulator AIFA, investigated a spate of major thefts between 2011 and 2014, that saw thousands of critical medicines for serious illnesses go missing. Di Giorgio uncovered a massive criminal network that saw stolen prescription drugs infiltrate official medical supply chains across Europe including the UK.
In March 2014, a German wholesaler was found to have bought a suspicious batch of the breast cancer drug, Herceptin. Tests showed that the Herceptin had been tampered with and was ineffective. The German firm said they had bought the drug from a wholesaler in the UK, which was the first indication of the UK medical supply chain having been infiltrated.
More than 10,000 units of stolen drugs, including the epilepsy drug, Lyrica, and critical medicines for MS, arthritis and asthma, had arrived in Britain by 2014, and at least four including Lyrica, and drugs for prostate cancer and schizophrenia, made it into UK pharmacies.
In a statement to Dispatches, Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency chief executive, Ian Hudson said: “I take our responsibility very seriously and that is why I have ordered an internal review… to make sure that if there are any areas that need strengthening we address these as a priority.”
Professor Atholl Johnston, a leading expert in clinical pharmacology at Queen Mary University of London, said: “If falsified medicines are getting onto the market in the United Kingdom yes we should be worried because they’ll be ineffective or may give us side effect that we weren’t expecting to have. The conditions medicines are stored in is absolutely critical. And pharmacies go to great lengths to make sure they’re stored in the right way. If they’re not stored like that some drugs will actually degrade and breakdown into other compounds, and those may actually cause problems in themselves. They may be carcinogenic, or they may give rise to other side effects.”