Tuesday, February 16, 2010

WSJ: No Cure for Fake Drugs

The Wall Street Journal reported on Tuesday on an effort within Syria to reduce the use of counterfeit drugs as the problem continues to grow and remain widespread in the Middle East.

The action within Syria resulted in the seizure in millions of dollars worth of breast cancer, leukemia and other medicines, along with tens of thousands of anticoagulant pills used in treating heart attacks and other diseases.

Included in the seizure was a large amount of equipment used to make and package fake drugs. This particular action is expected to stop at least one organization’s lucrative trade of counterfeits to Iraq, Turkey, Lebanon, Iran and Egypt.

The following are some of the highlights of the story:

  • Smuggling of drugs remains a widespread and dangerous problem. Figures from the World Health Organization show it can reach 35% of all drugs in the Middle East, compared to less than 1% in the U.S. and Western Europe. One confiscated shipment by the Syrian ring to Egypt contained counterfeit copies of one brand of a leukemia drugs with a street value of over $4 million -- equivalent to 50% of the annual sales of the brand.

  • Distributors not only sold the fake life-saving drugs to private pharmacies but also moved deep into the public health-care system, particularly in Iraq. A huge plastic bag seen amid the Damascus counterfeit haul contained hundreds of boxes of a treatment for mouth ulcers, all bearing the logo of the Iraqi health ministry, witnesses say.

  • Authorities claim that the ring busted in Syria was the main one operating in that country. A pharmaceutical-company manager said it was the main network for Egypt as well, but others are still operating in other Middle-Eastern countries.

  • One reason why drug counterfeiting has thrived in the Middle East is that authorities were unprepared for the sheer scale and sophistication of counterfeits and had neither the appropriate law enforcement framework nor the legislation to tackle them.

  • "When we started the investigation, we had no idea of the scale of these counterfeit networks," the Syrian official said.

  • A great proportion of the fake drugs smuggled by the network to Egypt and Syria came from China, according to Syrian Health Minister Reda Saed, sometime around 2007, the ring started making its own fake drugs, using technology mostly imported from China, the Syrian officials and the pharmaceutical-company managers said.

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To read the Wall Street Journal story, visit: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704533204575047282075703998.html.html.

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