Trends in Organized Crime

, Volume 20, Issue 3–4, pp 296–315 | Cite as

Illicit pharmaceutical networks in Europe: organising the illicit medicine market in the United Kingdom and the Netherlands

  • Alexandra HallEmail author
  • Rosa Koenraadt
  • Georgios A. Antonopoulos


It has been widely suggested that the global market in counterfeit, falsified and illegally traded medicines has expanded at a tremendous rate in recent years, offering lucrative opportunities for criminal entrepreneurs with little legal risk. However, with a few exceptions, there has been little criminological research conducted on the trade’s actors and organisation. Of the few studies that are available, most position the supply of these products in the context of ‘transnational organised crime’, often presupposing the overwhelming presence of large-scale, hierarchical structures in the trade. This article, based on two extensive research projects in the United Kingdom and the Netherlands, offers an account of the illicit supply of medicines in two European jurisdictions. The research outlines the nature and dynamics of the trade including the roles played by each national context as nodes in the global supply chain. The focus then shifts to the modus operandi, actors, online trade and social organisation in both countries. In contradistinction to the ‘transnational organised crime’ narrative, the empirical data outlined in this paper demonstrates that actors and networks involved in the trade are highly flexible and complex structures that straddle the categories of licit and illicit, online and offline, and global and local. This suggests that operations supplying illicit medicines vary largely in terms of size, reach, organisation and legality.


Counterfeit medicines Illicit medicines Enhancement drugs Organised crime Online markets 


Compliance with ethical standards


This work was partly supported by the European Commission [Grant number: HOME/2011/ISEC/AG/FINEC/4000002221 ‘FAKECARE’] and the European Union’s Education Audio-visual and Cultural Executive Agency’s Erasmus Mundus Fellowship.

Ethical approval

All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

Informed consent

Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.

Conflict of interest

The authors declare they have no conflicts of interest.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • Alexandra Hall
    • 1
    Email author
  • Rosa Koenraadt
    • 2
  • Georgios A. Antonopoulos
    • 1
  1. 1.School of Social Sciences, Business and LawTeesside UniversityMiddlesbroughUK
  2. 2.Willem Pompe Institute for Criminal Law and CriminologyUtrecht UniversityUtrechtthe Netherlands

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