Unmasking counterfeit pharmaceuticals: What is the actual harm counterfeit pharmaceuticals cause?

In June this year Europol Operation Pirates 1 took place seizing fake goods including counterfeit pharmaceuticals worth over €33m. Then between April and October another operation seized over 10.5 million medicinal products worth over €40m.

Throughout the operation, law enforcement personnel dismantled 59 criminal organisations and apprehended or reported 349 suspects to the judicial authorities. Authorities confiscated substantial quantities of misused, forged, or fraudulent medications, doping substances, illegal dietary and sports supplements, along with counterfeit COVID vaccines, sanitary items, and medical devices.

Counterfeit pharmaceuticals and medicines are an enormous societal concern.

Counterfeit medicines and medical supplies pose grave health risks to users. They may contain fewer or no active ingredients, be more potent, or manufactured in unsafe conditions, potentially leading to severe health consequences. More and more they are leading to fatal overdoses when laced with substances like fentanyl, as seen in some cases.

These are the key statistics from Operation Shield II carried out by Europol and EUIPO:

  • It led to the disruption of 25 criminal networks.
  • It resulted in nearly 700 arrests and the seizure of more than 25 million units of counterfeit anti-cancer drugs, erectile dysfunction medicines, pseudoephedrine, various doping substances, analgesics, antioestrogens, antivirals, hypnotics, antihistamines and anxiolytics.
  • The seizures were worth nearly EUR 73 million.
  • 10 clandestine laboratories were seized, 453 factories shut down and another 4.009 monitored.
  • As part of the operation, 536 doping inspections were performed and controls put on 650 athletes.

These numbers confirm counterfeit pharmaceuticals is not just a passing trend. It is something businesses must deal with immediately.


These operations serve as a testament to the collective commitment of law enforcement agencies and international organisations to protect public health and safety by dismantling criminal networks engaged in the trafficking of counterfeit medicines. The trade of these pharmaceuticals not only results in reduced sales but also tarnishes the reputation of genuine manufactures. Therefore, it’s more vital than ever to remain protected and pursue infringements.

The two primary intellectual property rights at higher risk of infringement in healthcare cases are patents and trademarks.

In instances of IP-infringements, holders of rights have the option to submit takedown requests to e-commerce platforms. Additionally, they can pursue direct legal action against counterfeiters, whenever it is both practical and possible. It is worth noting that IP infringements often open the door for law enforcement agencies to step in, potentially strengthening the foundation for legal prosecutions.

If you would like to discuss how best to protect and enforce pharmaceutical, medicinal and therapeutic products, please contact us today. Or, if you would like to find out how our state-of-the-art online brand protection platform iProvidence could help you monitor and tackle counterfeits of your products, please contact us to arrange a free trial.