Nearly 13,000 websites selling illegal and counterfeit medicines taken down.

A crackdown on illegal and counterfeit medicines has led to the seizure of nearly two million doses, worth £4 million, more than half of which was confiscated in the U.K.

Nearly 13,000 websites selling fake drugs have been taken down by investigators from the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Authority (MHRA) and London's Metropolitan police in a week-long operation.

In raids on the premises of people suspected of dealing in fake drugs in the U.K., £17,500 in cash and weapons — including a stun gun, crossbow and knuckle-duster — were also found.

Operation Pangea is a collaboration between drug regulators, Interpol, customs and police involving 79 countries, initiated by the U.K. authorities because of the global nature of the fake drug business.

Most of the fake pharmacy websites are facilitated by Chinese or Russian criminal organisations, says the MHRA, while counterfeit drugs are most often made in China or India.

An additional danger for those wanting to buy their medicines online is that they may put their identity and financial details into the hands of organised crime, it adds.

But the regulator's main concern is public health, said Nimo Ahmed, the head of its intelligence unit. People who buy medicines online from illegal websites may not get the drug, or the strength of dose, they need, and they may be sent something that will harm them.

Mr. Ahmed said: “There are no figures for the number of illnesses, but around the world a number of people have died as a result of taking counterfeit medicines. There have been some reports in the U.K. where it is believed a medicine may have led to the death, but it's very difficult to tell.”

It is not only Viagra that is counterfeited, he said. Among the drugs seized in Operation Pangea were medicines for epilepsy, breast cancer, stomach ulcers and asthma inhalers.

Buyers of the fake drugs are often young. Mr. Ahmed said he had heard of a 13-year-old having to be hospitalised after taking a slimming drug. There had also been reports of students buying modafinil, a drug licensed for sleep disorders, and drugs prescribed for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), because it can increase short-term memory and alertness. But it also had the potential to cause depression and carried suicide risks, he said. — © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2011

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