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Intellectual Property Rights

National Intellectual Property Rights Coordination Center partners take part in international day of action on illegal pharmaceuticals

ICE, CBP, FDA, and USPIS scan international mail for drugs sold illegally on the Internet

WASHINGTON, D.C. - On Nov. 12, 2008, as part of an international day of action, the federal agencies represented in the National Intellectual Property Rights Coordination Center (IPR Center) conducted a one-day inspection surge at international mail facilities located in four U.S. cities. These stepped-up inspections targeted Internet sites illegally selling and supplying pharmaceuticals.

Yesterday's surge operations in Dallas, Chicago, Seattle and New York were part of the multi-national International Internet Day of Action known as Operation Pangea.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), the Food and Drug Administration Office of Criminal Investigations (FDA-OCI), and the U.S. Postal Inspection Service (USPIS) joined forces with the United Kingdom's Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) and other international regulatory agencies associated with INTERPOL to counter a burgeoning global threat.

Representatives of the IPR Center partner agencies assisted CBP personnel as they processed international mail, particularly pharmaceuticals, at the four facilities. The participating agencies coordinated the expertise of their respective units to target, interdict and investigate the illicit importation of goods that pose a health and safety risk to consumers.

As a result of the surge operation, approximately 635 international mail parcels were physically examined; 18 were seized. The contents of the seized parcels included counterfeit Viagra, Cialis, steroids and Xanax. The IPR Center partner agencies will review the seizures to develop evidence for possible use in the initiation of criminal investigations and the eventual crackdown on U.S. and international-based pharmaceutical websites.

"The importation of substandard, tainted or counterfeit products violates U.S. laws and regulations and threatens public health and safety as well as the economic well being of the U.S.," said Julie L. Myers, Department of Homeland Security Assistant Secretary for ICE. "Our ability to work together across the federal government and with agencies around the world is a strong and appropriate response to a growing international threat."

"The Postal Inspection Service is responsible for keeping illegal, immoral or unsafe items out of the U.S. Mail. We will continue to contribute to the Operation Pangea Task Force so postal customers and employees won't have to think twice about the safety of the packages shipped into the United States," said Zane M. Hill, Deputy Chief Postal Inspector, U.S. Postal Inspection Service.

"The results from Operation Pangea clearly show that buying medicine from Internet sites can be risky business," said CBP Commissioner W. Ralph Basham. "Medicines purchased in this way may be counterfeit and can be very dangerous to consumer health."

In the United Kingdom, MHRA investigators visited a number of residential and commercial addresses believed to be connected to seven Internet sites allegedly selling unlicensed medicines or prescription-only medicines claiming to treat conditions such as impotency, obesity and hair loss. Police accompanied the MHRA investigators on some of the visits. MHRA investigators seized over a thousand packs of unlicensed medicines, a number of computers and related documentation. In addition, all of the U.K. website Internet Service Providers (ISPs) have been asked to close down the infringing websites and, in one case, to seek compliance by removing the illegal products.

Operation Pangea was coordinated by the Permanent Forum on International Pharmaceutical Crime, INTERPOL and the World Health Organization's (WHO) International Medical Products Anti-Counterfeiting Taskforce. It is the first time that action has been taken on an international scale with participating countries including Canada, Germany, Ireland, Israel, New Zealand, Singapore and Switzerland in addition to the U.K. and United States.

In the United States, the recently restructured IPR Center acts as the consolidated U.S. government (USG) response to the global economic and health and safety issues posed by the illegal importation of counterfeit, sub-standard and unregulated commodities. The expanded Center consists of representatives from ICE, CBP, the Department of Commerce, FDA-OCI, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Department of Justice Computer Crimes and Intellectual Property Rights Section, and the USPIS. The IPR Center conducts seamless coordination of multi-jurisdictional/multi-national IPR investigations to maximize the effectiveness of the U.S. government response to this global threat. The IPR Center also has the capability to conduct complex IPR investigations from within the Center.

In addition, the Center conducts outreach and training to expand transnational enforcement capabilities. In this capacity, the IPR Center serves as a one-stop shop for partnering with the federal law enforcement, and as a clearinghouse for information on trends in counterfeiting and smuggling.

For more information on the IPR Center, contact:

The National Intellectual Property Rights Coordination Center
2451 Crystal Drive, Suite 200
Arlington, VA 20598-5105
Web site: www.ice.gov
E-mail: IPRCenter@dhs.gov