Illegal medicines

Unit responsible: 

quality and risk assessment of health products available on the internet

In addition to the legal market, there are also health products and medicines available on the internet where counterfeit, illegal or low-quality products are flourishing. We carry out analyses of suspected medicines and health products on behalf of various institutions:

  • For the Federal Agency for Medicines and Health Products, we check suspect samples seized by the inspectors of the special investigation unit
  • For the Federal Agency for the Safety of the Food Chain, we analyse suspected or non-notified food supplements as well as suspected products (food supplements and medicines) for animals.
  • For the FPS justice, we analyse suspect products in a broad context by order of the different public prosecutors’ offices 

We develop new analytical methods and strategies to anticipate future analysis requirements, with a particular focus on (illegal) biological medicines. We also carry out market studies with a particular focus on products sold on non-accredited websites.

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We mainly work on four groups of products. The first group is designer molecules. These are analogues of existing medicines, the (side) effects of which have never been investigated. The unknown side effects could present a health risk. These analogues are often found in illegal medicines and food supplements. Thus, more than 60 analogues for sildenafil, the active substance in Viagra®, have already been found.

The second group concerns plant-based food supplements, which may contain illegal or toxic plants. We develop strategies to identify certain plants in these products, so that illegal or toxic products can be taken off the market.

Biopharmaceutical products are the third group that we investigate. Within this group, an increasing number of peptides and proteins are being sold illegally. Examples include growth hormones, but also peptides that colour the skin brown when injected, such as Melanotan. Identifying this third group of products requires specific methods and approaches, which we develop and implement ourselves. In this area we also collaborate on formulating European recommendations for laboratories that are part of the European OMCL network.

The last group is medical devices. Consumers are not aware that they use medical devices every day, such as condoms, lubricants, contact lenses and lens fluids. These products are offered at a low cost on the internet. We develop new analysis methods to check the safety of internet products and to inform consumers.

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