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Fake medicines seized in crackdown

Millions of pounds of fake medicines have been seized as soaring numbers of cash-strapped Britons gamble with their lives buying counterfeit drugs over the internet.

About 1.2 million suspect doses were discovered in or en route to the UK during a seven-day crackdown on rogue websites selling treatments for an array of conditions including epilepsy and cancer.

More than £5 million-worth of unlicensed pharmaceuticals was found across the globe as part of the largest operation of its kind. Seizures relating to the industry in Britain have risen sixfold over the past year, according to figures from the Medicines and Healthcare Regulatory Agency (MHRA).

The Interpol-led operation, which concluded on Tuesday, came after two English schoolgirls were admitted to hospital with heart problems caused by weight loss pills bought online.

Nimo Ahmed, of the MHRA, said the dangers of the online drug industry reach well beyond the millions of Britons being harassed by email hackers to buy fake Viagra. He said the bogus pharmaceutical industry was worth billions of pounds across the world as Britons log on to buy cheaper alternatives to over-the-counter pharmacies.

Fake drugs are shipped into the country from across the world, with the industry growing fastest in China and Russia. Mr Ahmed said: "It's vital that these organised criminals are targeted. Not only are they making harmful drugs, they are making millions, if not billions, of pounds in the process."

London paramedic Lorna Lambden, 27, was discovered dead last December after buying sleeping pills over the internet to help her cope with her demanding shifts.

Authorities, including the UK Border Agency and Scotland Yard, carried out 16 warrants in the UK, making 13 arrests and taking down almost 13,000 websites.

Bogus treatments for epilepsy, asthma, acne, narcolepsy, breast cancer, erectile dysfunction, weight loss, pain relief and human growth hormone drugs were found in raids at a number of locations including Brighton, Wembley, in north west London, and Ebbw Vale, near Cardiff.

The operation is the largest internet-targeting enforcement action of its kind, with 80 countries participating in this year's event, the MHRA said. Across the world, 55 people were arrested or placed under investigation. In conjunction with UKBA, the MHRA seized illegal medicine worth about £2 million, including 52,000 doses of counterfeit pills.

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