Health Service Focus

25.02.20

APCC: Cracking down on illegal sales of medicines with communication

Hardyal Dhindsa, Association of Police and Crime Commissioners (APCC) lead for alcohol and substance misuse and PCC for Derbyshire, discusses the illegal theft and sale of medicines.

It is recognised that illegal theft and sales of medicines is a significant issue not just for the UK but globally.  However, with the plethora of different agencies that deal with this form of criminality it is difficult to gauge volume, trends and ultimately harm that is caused by this activity.

The rise in illicit use of prescribed drugs creates a growing market for counterfeit drugs supply. In tackling counterfeiting, we know that drugs companies are likely to deploy their own intelligence and investigative capabilities and where arrests are likely to be required or there is evidence of serious and organised crime, they will contact the police and share relevant information.

The police service needs to work more closely with the private sector and make use of these resources. At present, discussions are ongoing around involving police at an earlier stage of the investigative process and working jointly to combat online criminality. As the lead Police and Crime Commissioner for drugs misuse, I will be looking to ensure that partnership activity is exploited to its full to achieve significant reductions in supply and to bring those responsible to justice.

There is also the issue of criminality involving businesses and registered pharmacies, including pharmacies diverting prescription only medicines onto the criminal market, which are being sold online.  Here there is evidence of serious and organised criminals using those inside the supply chain to illegally divert prescription medicines to be sold online.

The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) has carried out significant and widespread investigations into this form of criminality, which includes large quantities of benzodiazepines coming onto the black market.

The work of the Association of Police Controlled Drugs liaison officers (APCDLO) is certainly worthy of a mention in this context.  It was formed in 2000 to bring together the service and relevant partners to establish best practice nationally.  Whilst the initial focus was on the inspection of retail pharmacy outlets, its remit expanded with the introduction of the Health Act 2006.

With the formation of Controlled Drug Local Intelligence Networks (CD-LINs) the role of policing expanded from investigation and enforcement to intelligence and, critically, partnership working.

It is vital that the police work with the healthcare system to ensure that reporting and information sharing is maximised. As we get more information on the illegal theft and sale of medicine, we must ensure that we have the internal mechanisms such as flagging relevant crime and intelligence reports so the information can be collated and intelligence used to drive prevention and enforcement activity.

The Online Harms White Paper published last year, covers the sale of illegal goods and future legislation in this area and will seek to put more responsibility back on to online regulators. I will be looking to highlight these issues at Ministerial level to ensure that not just the police service but its partner agencies across government share relevant information and work together to reduce harm.

The Home Secretary Chaired Drugs Board will be looking to take the findings of the Professor Dame Carol Black chaired, Independent Review into Drugs to reshape the landscape in terms of governance and shared responsibilities.

At the same time as addressing the more recognised illegal drugs trade we need to recognise that the illegal theft and sale of medicines also cause serious harm to the most vulnerable in society. We require the same kind of joined up approach if we want to properly address this form of criminality.

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