Friday, October 22, 2010

Eastern Europe Confronts Fake Medicines

“Fighting back counterfeiters can't be done by one country or by one organization, it calls for a synergy of efforts."

Eastern Europe is a key route in a multi-billion-dollar trade in often-dangerous counterfeit medicines that has grown exponentially on the Internet. Agence France-Presse reports on a meeting of more than 120 anti-counterfeit specialists from six Eastern European countries in Romania held recently. The meeting was an effort to bring experts together and collaborate in combating this deadly crime which impacts the health of entire populations.

Highlights from the Agence France-Presse story include:

"There is an important Balkan route for fake medicines, which is the same as for heroin and other narcotics," Hungarian customs officer Karolyi Szep told AFP at the meeting called by the world's leading pharmaceutical company Pfizer.

• Such drugs can contain no active ingredients at all or 8,000 times the required amount, or heavy metals such as arsenic, lead-based paint, brick dust or floor wax -- content that poses major health risks and can lead to death.

Today most of the sales are done via the Internet, which has multiplied the trade -- and the risks -- exponentially.

According to the World Health Organization, one in two medicines sold online are fake.

• "People who buy medicines on the Internet are playing Russian roulette with their own lives," Steve Allen, senior director of Pfizer Global Security, told AFP.

• Allen said 63 million fake Pfizer tablets, vials and capsules as well as enough active ingredient to manufacture an additional 64 million have been seized worldwide since 2004. "But this is just the tip of the iceberg," he warned.

“Fighting back counterfeiters can't be done by one country or by one organization, it calls for a synergy of efforts," he said. "We are dealing with organized crime gangs, there is no doubt about it."

Considered a low-risk and high-reward business, counterfeit medicines have become increasingly alluring to narcotics smugglers.

"Supply techniques are identical, but the punishment is not," Allen said, stressing that in certain countries manufacturing or selling fake medicines is not considered a crime.

• In one case of narcotics and fake medicines going hand in hand, Turkish police seized 6,000 counterfeit Viagra pills smuggled with 378,000 ecstasy tablets and enough ingredients to manufacture 51 kilogrammes (110 pounds) of heroin.

• The former Soviet bloc has made important progress in recent years in fighting counterfeit medicines, said Gabriel Turcu, a senior partner in leading European anti-counterfeiting network REACT.

• Most countries in the region have toughened legislation and some are even setting an example for their Western neighbors. In Romania, fake drugs smugglers have for the first time been sentenced to prison this year.

"Years ago, judges would deem counterfeiting T-shirts or medicines was the same. Now their perception has changed," Turcu said.

Calling for increased public awareness, experts and law enforcement authorities stressed that deaths caused by fake medicines are often attributed to natural causes.

Secure Pharma Chain encourages collaborations as an important step forward in fighting this deadly criminal act.

Working partnerships between regulatory agencies and industry along with public awareness and the deployment of technologies are the vital components to the “synergy of efforts” in ending the threat of counterfeit medications to consumers around the globe.

To read the entire Agence France-Presse story, visit:

To learn more about pharmaceutical anti-counterfeiting solutions, visit:

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