Hiding in Plain Sight
Mislabeled, substandard or falsified medicines are the perfect opportunity for criminals looking for low risks and high rewards.
Charlotte Barker |
It is well known in the pharma industry – and among law enforcers – that counterfeit drugs are a growing problem, but Western consumers remain blissfully unaware for the most part. Despite a few high profile cases – for example, fake Avastin given to US cancer patients – the main burden falls on developing countries. Frequent shortages of life-saving drugs force doctors to turn to unofficial ‘gray market’ sources, while illegal (and potentially dangerous) fakes are sold direct to consumers in markets or on the street. Just this week, the press reported that an INTERPOL swoop in South Africa had seized 150 tons of fake medicines, arrested 550 people and closed 20 pharmacies. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that 100,000 deaths a year in Africa are linked to the counterfeit drug trade. That said, counterfeit medicines are not always inactive or dangerous – some are simply generics, mislabeled as brand-name drugs. Critics have argued that pursuing these ‘harmless’ counterfeits takes resources away from combating the real danger of falsified medicine (1). But it is hard to draw a clear distinction between the two – and is it unlikely that those already engaged in an illegal activity will feel compelled to stick to the stringent quality and safety standards of licensed drug manufacturers.
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