More than 242,000 unlicensed prescription tablets destined for addresses in Northern Ireland have been seized in a major operation targeting illicit and counterfeit medicines.
Justice Minister Naomi Long joined Health Minister Robin Swann and PSNI Deputy Chief Constable Mark McEwan to show Stormont the transport of illegal drugs confiscated as part of Operation Pangea XV.
They issued a warning that people were risking their physical and mental health by buying unregulated prescription drugs online.
Several packets of tablets with a street value of nearly £250,000 (about €293,000) destined for Northern Ireland were intercepted and seized as part of Interpol’s global coordinated operation.
The drugs seized included diazepam, pregabalin and zopiclone as well as tamoxifen.
Ms Long said: “I am delighted that the Organized Crime Task Force (OCTF) Counter-Drug Sub-Team has again supported Operation Pangea this year.
“The success of the operation means that hundreds of thousands of illicit tablets have been prevented from being distributed in Northern Ireland and lives have undoubtedly been saved.
Mr Swann added: ‘The illicit drugs recovered from Operation Pangea were destined for addresses across Northern Ireland, leaving none of our communities safe from the dangers presented by drugs like these .
“People buying from illegal sources don’t know where the pills come from or what they actually contain.
“My department’s drug regulatory group works proactively throughout the year with key partners, including police and border forces, to highlight and limit this activity where possible and I am grateful for their continued commitment.”
Mr McEwan said: “Operation Pangea sends a clear message to those involved in the supply of counterfeit and illegal prescription drugs that we will do everything in our power to disrupt and prevent the importation and supply.
“I want to warn anyone who is considering buying drugs online.
“These unregulated drugs are often produced in illicit and unsanitary laboratories and are designed to look like the genuine product.
“Alone or in combination, these drugs are extremely dangerous to take.
“We will continue to work in partnership locally, nationally and internationally to reduce the risks and harms associated with this illegal and unregulated industry.
“Working with our partners in the Organized Crime Task Force, this operation removed a significant amount of incredibly harmful counterfeit and illegal drugs from our communities.
“Our investigations and operational activities into the individuals and organized crime groups involved will continue.”
Darren Brabon, acting deputy director of Border Force, said his organization is aware of the threat posed by the importation of unauthorized drugs.
He added, “Through a collaborative approach, we have prevented a substantial amount of illicit drugs from reaching the streets.”