Viagra helps Swedish gangs get profits up

Viagra appears to have replaced cocaine as the drug of choice for Swedish motorcycle gangs looking to profit from the illegal drugs trade.

Viagra helps Swedish gangs get profits up

In recent years, organized criminals in Sweden have muscled in on the illegal sale of drugs to fight impotency and help people lose weight, the Dagens Nyheter (DN) newspaper reports.

Peddling drugs like counterfeit Viagra provides gangsters with tidy profits without the same sort of risks involved in smuggling and selling cocaine or heroin.

“The fact that organized crime has become increasingly interested in this is due to the high profitability and the weak sentences,” Tomas Nilsson, an investigator with the Swedish Medical Products Agency (Läkemedelsverket), told the paper.

According to DN, the Hells Angels motorcycle gang is believed to be a major player in the sale of Viagra after a raid on a club house in Uppsala last year uncovered a huge stash of impotency medication.

While criminal gangs can double their money by cocaine, illegally imported impotency or diet drugs can yield profits of up to 2,400 percent, according to the newspaper’s estimates.

Stopping the flow of illegal pills into Sweden is difficult for customs officials, whose hands are tied from inspecting packages which are sent from within the European Union due to a loophole in the regulations.

“We’ve drawn attention to this, but nothing happens. There has to be a change in the law,” Jonas Karlsson of Swedish Customs (Tullverket) told DN.

According to the Medical Products Agency, the trade in illegally imported drugs like impotency and diet pills has an annual turnover of about 900 million kronor ($126 million).

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Should Sweden make Viagra prescription-free?

Erectile dysfunction medicine Viagra is to become available over the counter in Norway, meaning Swedes will be able to cross the border to purchase the medication.

Should Sweden make Viagra prescription-free?
Viagra is to become prescription free in Norway as it is in the UK, but Sweden is holding back from making the same move. File photo: Stefan Gustavsson / SvD / TT

But the Swedish Medical Products Agency (Läkemedelsverket) currently has no plans to eliminate the prescription requirement in Sweden.

In neighbouring Norway, like the United Kingdom, Viagra is to be purchasable from pharmacies without a prescription.

One reason for the move is to reduce the amount of Viagra and other medicines for erectile dysfunction which are illegally imported into Norway, Sveinung Stensland, a representative for the country’s Stortinget parliament, told TT.

Given the taboo associated with the drug, it is hoped that increasing accessibility will help with that issue. In order to buy the medicine, pharmacy customers will be required to fill out a declaration and receive guidance on its use.

Sweden rejected making a similar decision in 2017, the year the UK removed its prescription requirement for the drug, citing risk factors when it is taken at the same time as certain other medications.

Additionally, impotence may need to be further investigated by doctors, since it can be a sign of heart disease, the Swedish Medical Products Agency said in its decision.

But the Assocation of Swedish pharmacies (Sveriges Apoteksförening) said it looks positively on the Norwegian decision and called for Sweden to take the same step.

“It is an old medicine with which the risks are well-known. It is also a drug with major accessibility problems, which people buy illegally and receive a drug that they might not be certain what it is,” the association’s CEO Johan Wallér said.

“Viagra should not be made completely prescription-free, but you can make it prescription-free with certain restrictions,” he said.

By making the drug prescription-free on condition of consultation with a pharmacist at point of purchase, Wallér believes it could be made more accessible while reducing the risk of incorrect use.

But a Swedish Medical Products Agency spokesperson said that this would not work in Sweden, however, given differences in how drugs are sold: a pharmacist in Sweden does not have the right to refuse to sell a non-prescription drug.

But when Viagra becomes prescription free in Norway, it will be possible to buy it over the counter and then legally bring it to Sweden. It is legal to carry drugs not classed as narcotics between EU or EEA countries, provided they are for personal use.

Viagra and similar preparations represent a large proportion of the drugs smuggled into Sweden.

During the first six months of this year, Swedish customs seized more than 2,600 tablets, 3.5 litres in liquid form and 3.3kg in powder form of such types of medication.

“Most of it comes in by mail, usually from Asia. Most of it is ordered from various websites,” said Jonas Karlsson, a specialist with Swedish Customs (Tullverket).

Use of medicines for erectile function has increased significantly in recent years, according to the Swedish Medical Products Agency. More than 165,000 men were prescribed the medicine in 2018, compared to 112,000 in 2008.

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