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

Abstract

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.

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Correspondence to Alexandra Hall.

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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.

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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.

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

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Hall, A., Koenraadt, R. & Antonopoulos, G.A. Illicit pharmaceutical networks in Europe: organising the illicit medicine market in the United Kingdom and the Netherlands. Trends Organ Crim 20, 296–315 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12117-017-9304-9

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Keywords

  • Counterfeit medicines
  • Illicit medicines
  • Enhancement drugs
  • Organised crime
  • Online markets