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Police seize illicit medicines in crackdown on online drugs trade

The PSNI supported a major international police effort.

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David Henderson, a detective inspector from the PSNI’s organised crime unit, said a major seizure of online prescribed drugs showed that law enforcement is trying to do something about the supply of illicit medicines (Michael McHugh/PA)

David Henderson, a detective inspector from the PSNI’s organised crime unit, said a major seizure of online prescribed drugs showed that law enforcement is trying to do something about the supply of illicit medicines (Michael McHugh/PA)

David Henderson, a detective inspector from the PSNI’s organised crime unit, said a major seizure of online prescribed drugs showed that law enforcement is trying to do something about the supply of illicit medicines (Michael McHugh/PA)

Police in Northern Ireland have seized around 140,000 illegal and unlicensed tablets and other medicinal products purchased online.

They included human hormone treatments, the tranquiliser diazepam, pregabalin and the stimulant modafinil.

The PSNI supported international coordinated police action targeting the sale of counterfeit and illicit medicines.

David Henderson, a detective inspector from the force’s organised crime unit, said: “This sends out a clear message that globally law enforcement is trying to do something about the supply of these illicit medicines.”

Multiple packages of drugs were seized in searches carried out during the week-long Operation Pangea earlier this month.

Officers entered a terraced property off the Crumlin Road in North Belfast in pursuit of illegal medicines.

This is a societal problem that won't be cured by enforcement aloneDetective Inspector David Henderson

Nobody was at home and the hallway was strewn with broken glass.

Police wearing purple gloves to protect evidence hunted for clues.

A black Labrador specially trained to detect substances was used to check the entrance to the property.

Drug deaths in 2018 were up 39% on the previous year and 40% of fatalities had the commonly abused anti-anxiety medicine diazepam present, Mr Henderson said.

Pregabalin, prescribed to treat epilepsy, was present in 29% of drugs-related deaths.

In 2018, 54 involved pregabalin compared to nine in 2016.

Mr Henderson said a lot of drugs purporting to be legitimate were counterfeit.

He said organised criminals were buying them in bulk online to sell in Northern Ireland while others were purchasing them for personal use.

“You really do not know what you are taking when you take one of these pills,” he said.

“There could be anything in them, from rat poison to mercury or anything worse than that and they can seriously damage your health, as our drugs-related deaths figures show.”

He said lives had been saved through police action.

“Over the past 10 years drugs seizures and arrests continue to rise.

“Law enforcement on its own will not cure the drug problem in Northern Ireland or anywhere else across the globe.

“This is a societal problem that won’t be cured by enforcement alone.

“All we can hope to do is restrict supply but we cannot stop it completely so what we have to do is try to suppress demand.”

PA