Thursday, November 4, 2010

IPS: Fake Medicines May Kill a Million a Year

Central and Eastern Europe is facing "significant challenges" in combating a multi-billion euro, and often lethal, trade in fake medicines, security and pharmaceutical groups have warned.

Pavol Strancansky writes a disturbing if not interesting story about the size, scope and danger of counterfeit medication in Europe for the Inter Press Service. The story is full of insider insight and current statistics.

Included in Mr. Strancansky’s story:

Millions of counterfeit tablets and medicines, some of them containing lethal heavy metals, are smuggled annually. The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that 50 percent of medicines sold online are fake.

• But while some Eastern European states have brought in strict laws and procedures to fight fake medicine smugglers, criminals in the region are thought to be working with international gangs in neighbouring states to bring contraband medicines into the EU.

• Gabriel Turcu, partner at the European anti-counterfeiting organisation REACT, told IPS: "It has been shown that there are people in Central and Eastern European EU member states working with organised gangs in neighbouring countries to bring counterfeit medicines into the European Union and westwards. This is a significant challenge for the region."

• Just like the drug and people trafficking trade, the counterfeit medicine industry is estimated to be worth tens of billions of euros per year for crime gangs, and is mushrooming every year.

The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime has estimated that this year the illegal market in counterfeit medicines will provide more than 75 billion euros in revenues for smugglers -- a rise of 92 percent on 2005.

Police forces say that fake medicines, sometimes so well-prepared and packaged that they can fool even healthcare professionals, are being shipped out by crooks in the same illegal consignments as narcotics. Gangs then sell them on to unscrupulous medicine wholesalers or direct to the public online.

Health experts estimate that fake medicines -- made from anything from crushed brick to arsenic -- cause up to one million deaths a year, and the UN has said they are contributing to growing drug resistance.

India and China are thought to be the main source countries for the fake medicines, but customs officers in central and Eastern Europe have said that they are being brought into Europe on the same smuggling routes used for narcotics and people -- through Eastern Europe and the Balkans.

• Pfizer issued a report earlier this year saying that the market in counterfeit medicines in Europe is worth an estimated 10.5 billion euros annually, with people in Italy and Germany spending the most on what later turn out to be fake medicines -- an estimated 3.6 billion and 2.7 billion euros respectively.

• EU officials have said that in a two-month period last year 34 million fake tablets were seized by customs officials while the Council of Europe says that in some parts of Europe fake medicines make up between six and 20 percent of the market.

Public awareness of the risks of counterfeit medicines is also low, according to research.

• While punishments for drug running and people smuggling are severe and risks high, those for counterfeit medicines are generally far less. In some countries production and selling of counterfeit medicines is not considered a crime and in many Western states it was until relatively recently viewed legally as being on a par with trading in fake branded clothes.

• Turcu, who last week attended a special conference in Bucharest which brought together country representatives and law enforcement officials from across the region to discuss the threat of counterfeit medicines, told IPS: "What is needed is a directive from the EU making it mandatory for countries at national level to qualify counterfeiting as a crime and counterfeiting that harms people as a serious crime."

Along with regulatory action, public awareness and action by industry leaders and members of the pharmaceutical supply chain are crucial in eradicating this very serious, potentially lethal crime.

To read the entire IPS story, visit:

To learn more about anti-counterfeiting technologies designed for pharmaceuticals, visit:

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