Sedatives and anabolic steroids top haul of illegally imported drugs seized last year

Pharma could be just the tonic. Stock image

Eilish O'Regan

Sedatives and anabolic steroids topped the list of illegally imported medicines last year as nearly one million doses of various drugs were seized.

Some 247,737 sedatives were detained with 207,220 units of anabolic steroids.

The seizures emerged today as the Health Products Regulatory Authority (HPRA) released its annual enforcement data which shows that it detained some 940,000 dosage units of falsified and other illegal medicines in 2022.

It warned of the serious health dangers posed by sourcing prescription medicines online and from unauthorised sources.

It said the supply of these products into and within Ireland is illegal and stressed that consumers can have no guarantees about the safety or quality of prescription medicines they are seeking to buy outside of the regulated pharmacy setting.

Last year the most significant categories of illegal products detained included sedatives (26pc), anabolic steroids (22pc), erectile dysfunction medicines (9pc), analgesics (7pc), and stimulants (5pc). The breakdown is:

  • Sedative medicines – 247,737 units detained
  • Anabolic steroids – 207,220 units detained
  • Erectile dysfunction – 84,038 units detained
  • Analgesic medicines – 63,776 units detained
  • Stimulants – 46,547 units detained
  • 639 websites, e-commerce listings and/or social media pages amended or shut down
  • Seven voluntary formal cautions issued and one prosecution case initiated relating to the importation or distribution of anabolic steroids

Grainne Power, director of compliance with the HPRA, said the 2022 figures highlight again the risks people are taking when attempting to purchase prescription medicines online.

“When you acquire medicines from unregulated sources, you simply have no idea what you are getting. This isn’t merely about people wasting money on falsified or counterfeit products. It is also about the very real health dangers of significant side effects, of using a product without supervision, where there is no guarantee of what it contains, and of experiencing interactions with other medicines being taken,” she said.

“In the last two years alone – 2021 and 2022 – over two and half million units of illegal prescription medicines from unauthorised sources have been detained nationally. We know from our investigations that those who supply these illicit medicines are solely concerned with making a profit and have no regard for the health of the consumers who are the end users.

"The detention of close to one million dosage units of illegally supplied medicines in 2022 reflects the commitment of the HPRA to deliver on our public health remit in preventing these illegal, and often dangerous medicines, from reaching Irish consumers and patients.

“The internet is a major channel in the supply of illegal prescriptions medicines into Ireland. We know that the sources behind these sites can be bogus, or worse, criminal networks. The monitoring of websites, online marketplace advertisements and social media sites throughout the year to identify illegal sales of medicines is a key part of our work to protect consumers. We continue to urge people not to engage in risky behaviour by purchasing prescription medicines from internet pharmacies or social media sites. Self-medicating with online prescription products could have serious consequences for your health.”

The HPRA said that people in Ireland should only obtain their medicines through recognised and regulated sources. This way they know they are getting products that can be both relied upon to contain the right ingredients and that are tailored to their specific needs under the supervision of a doctor or pharmacist.

The HPRA is responsible for prosecuting cases where it considers that there is a significant risk to public health or where there are persistent non-compliances. There was one such prosecution case initiated in 2022, relating to the unauthorised supply of anabolic steroids. In addition, there were seven voluntary formal cautions (VFCs) relating to the unauthorised supply of medicines. The HPRA also supports prosecutions brought by the Director of Public Prosecutions in relation to the illegal supply of medicines.

The HPRA said it works in close co-operation with colleagues from An Garda Síochána and Revenue’s Customs Service with whom there is significant inter-agency collaboration to combat the illegal supply of health products into and within Ireland. It also co-operates and shares intelligence with other regulatory and law enforcement agencies across Europe and worldwide to prevent the illegal manufacture, importation and distribution of medicines, medical devices, and cosmetics.

Anyone can report in confidence to the HPRA at or at 01 6343436.