Illegal prescription drug smuggling on the rise

  • 2008-08-20
  • By Marge Tubalkain-Trell
TALLINN - The Estonian Tax and Customs Board recently seized 12,000 false Viagra pills in one of 66 cases of fake or illegal prescription drugs this year.
Most of the illegal medicines were psychotropic medicines that lacked a proper delivery license from the State Agency of Medicine.

"The number of discovered medicines has grown in 2008. It's connected mainly to new regulations on shipping medicine after joining the Schengen zone," said Urmas Jarg, a customs control manager for the customs board.
Most of the cases concern drugs being taken out of Estonia, usually after a person attains large amounts through fraud. Finland is a common destination for medicines being smuggled out of Estonia.
Customs officials have also seized drugs that are legal in Russia but illegal in Estonia. Most of the drugs entering Estonia are from Russia, but the Viagra pills came from India and were on their way to Russia.
"Contraband is taken across the border in various ways. Traditionally, it's hidden in the construction of a vehicle," Jarg said.

He added that medicine is often not hidden when crossing an unpatrolled internal Schengen border. Due to the lack of common initial data, it's difficult to say how much illegal medicine has been seized.
Discovered illegal medicine are destroyed according to a timeline that depends on the nature of the case. MTA also prefers to collect the goods which are going to be destroyed to the bigger batches.

The actual drug content of smuggled prescription drugs is not analyzed. All illegal drugs are treated as potentially dangerous, since chemical analysis is usually too expensive for the supervising institution. In some cases, however, the owner of the trademark performs analysis, as in the case of the 12,000 Viagra pills.
"The experts showed that it is a fake Viagra product, which by form, color and size is very similar to Viagra," said Jarg.

The Tax and Customs Board has increased its focus on illegal medicines due to the huge health risks for consumers of illicit medicines.