During an action day on 20 September 2022, the Central Office against Environmental and Public Health Crime of the French Gendarmerie (Office central de lutte contre les atteintes à l’environnement et à la santé publique – OCLAESP) arrested 20 suspects involved in international drug trafficking. The organised crime group had specialised in acquiring psychotropic drugs containing the Pregabalin agent by using stolen or faked prescriptions in various EU Member States.
Law enforcement conducted seven house searches and seized fake Belgian identity documents, illegal medicines, fake prescriptions and cash. The operation was led by France and relied on international cooperation by Austria, Belgium, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and Switzerland. Europol supported the operation by liaising with the OCLAESP, processing the available data and deploying a mobile office on the spot during the action day in Lyon (Rhône-Alpes region).
Fake prescriptions as modus operandi
The organised crime group targeted had been supplying the market with illegally acquired drugs since November 2020. By providing fake and stolen doctors’ prescriptions from all over France, the criminal group managed to collect psychotropic drugs from pharmacies in the French Rhone-Alpes region. Law enforcement were alerted by a pharmacist of the suspicion of this illegal activity and started an investigation that culminated in the recent action.
Of the 20 people arrested, eight were taken into police custody and five of them eventually incarcerated. Initial interrogations of the leading members of the criminal network revealed that they also regularly travelled to other European countries to obtain the supply of medicines, which in turn were also illegally obtained by a criminal network operating abroad. Apart from the medicines fraudulently gathered in France, the arrested suspects were trading in medicines mainly imported from the Netherlands and Belgium.
Grave public health risk
The illegally acquired drugs were sold on the local market, causing a recurrent threat to public health. Illegal trade in either genuine, counterfeited, falsified or misused medicines is a grave public health concern and this has recently seen an increase, especially in the area of antiviral drugs including two oral antivirals currently available to treat CoViD-19.