Friday, December 4, 2009

Washington Post: US Crackdown Targets Counterfeit Drugs

Fake medicines are a growing enterprise. In a November 20th article in the Washington Post they give out excellent statistics and report on an international law enforcement effort, code named Pangea that we have blogged about several times recently.

Operation Pangea conducted organized raids on five continents to combat counterfeit drugs.

In the U.S. the crackdown uncovered 700 alleged packages of fake or suspicious prescription drugs including Viagra, Vicodin, and Claritin, and shut down 90 alleged rogue online pharmacies. The international operation took down 72 Web sites, seized nearly 1,000 packages and found more than 167,000 suspected illicit and counterfeit pills. Some may have as much as three times more of an active ingredient than is typically prescribed; others may be placebos.

According to the National Association of Chain Drug Stores, a trade group, Americans spent $254 billion on prescription drugs last year, up 1.8 percent from 2007.

The increase of internet pharmacies has given rise to rogue pharmacies posing as legitimate sites. One site under federal investigation for selling erectile dysfunction medications like Viagra and Cialis states that it is headquartered in Canada, has a warehouse in India and is licensed to sell in the U.S. through Minnesota. However, the website is registered in China and is hosted in Russia.

These sites are very hard to track and the Food and Drug Administration discourages consumers from purchasing medication online except through Verified Internet Pharmacy Practice (VIPP) pharmacies, which are certified by the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy (NABAP). The National Association of Boards of Pharmacy maintains a list of roughly 4,000 online pharmacies it says are questionable.

The global crackdown involved a half a dozen U.S. agencies and 24 countries in a week long intensive sweep. "For the criminals, at least," said Richard Halverson, unit chief at the National Intellectual Property Rights Coordination Center, "we're telling them that everybody's looking."

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