Over three million illegal medicines have been seized and thousands of fake online pharmacies shut down as part of a global police operation, Interpol has announced.

Operation Pangea XIV, which involved police, customs and health regulators from 92 countries including the UK, resulted in 113,020 web links being closed down or removed – the highest number since the first operation in 2008, Interpol said.

In the UK, the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) removed more than 3,100 advertising links for the illegal sale and supply of unlicensed medicines, and shut down 43 websites.

The UK watchdog also seized over three million fake medicines and devices worth more than £9 million as part of the operation, which took place between 18 and 25 May.

Among the medicines seized were slimming pills, anabolic steroids, antidepressants, erectile dysfunction tablets, and painkillers, the MHRA said.

The Interpol statement also said that fake and unauthorised Covid-19 testing kits had accounted for more than half of all medical devices seized during the operation, resulting in 277 arrests worldwide.

General Jürgen Stock, Interpol secretary, said criminals had been ‘quick to target’ people who had been forced by the pandemic to move their lives online.

‘While some individuals were knowingly buying illicit medicines, many thousands of victims were unwittingly putting their health and potentially their lives at risk,’ he said.

‘The online sale of illicit medicines continues to pose a threat to public safety, which is why operations such as Pangea remain vital in combating this global health scourge.’

Andy Morling, head of enforcement at the MHRA, said: ‘Operation Pangea is a powerful example of what can be achieved through partnership working to tackle this kind of offending.

‘We will continue to work closely with our international partners and UK Border Force to prevent unlicensed medicines from entering the UK, to identify illegally operating websites and to bring those criminals behind them to justice.’

The MHRA said it would be following the week of action with a ‘detailed analysis’ of the global results to create a better understanding of ‘current and emerging threats’.

‘This work includes the identification of ‘hotspot’ exporting countries, favoured high-risk medicines being traded on the black market, and the ever-evolving business models of criminals worldwide seeking to take advantage of the public,’ the watchdog added.