Junkfood Science: Counterfeit drugs and supplements

November 08, 2007

Counterfeit drugs and supplements

U.S. Pharmatechnologist just reported on a small, but growing, number of counterfeit drugs, both pharmaceutical and alternatives, that are finding their way into our medicine cabinets. Writing of a new report from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, it highlighted the obesity drug Rimonabant (Acomplia), which was falsely advertised for sale over the internet before it had even received EU marketing approval. As previously reviewed here, even look-alikes have become part of the Wild West of online drugs.

Most disconcerting in the OECD report were the shocking photos from the Instituto Nacional de Medicamento of the rudimentary methods and unsanitary environments found where counterfeit drugs are made. The report estimated that the sale of counterfeit and pirated products reached $200 billion in 2005.

Health and safety concerns are obvious:

In the case of pharmaceuticals, trademark-infringing products may include correct ingredients in incorrect quantities or may be composed according to a wrong formula. Products can furthermore contain non-active or even toxic ingredients. Ailments which could be remedied by genuine products may go untreated or worsen; in some cases this may lead to death. Most purchasers of counterfeit pharmaceuticals are likely to be completely unaware that they have been victimised.

This report is a word of caution for everyone to be careful about the drugs we choose to take and where we purchase them.

Today's news reports:

New counterfeit report highlights worrying trends

A new report highlights a number of worrying trends emerging in regard to the increasing number of fake pharmaceuticals infiltrating supply chains around the globe..., warned the report on counterfeiting released by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

While the magnitude of counterfeit pharmaceuticals is still reported as low (less than one percent) in many developed countries, such as Australia, Canada, the EU, Japan, New Zealand and the US, they are becoming increasingly affected as the practice of global sourcing and manufacturing intensifies. “A worrisome trend is that counterfeits are increasingly being detected as having entered the supply chain of some of the most regulated jurisdictions," said the OECD....

In the OECD survey, one company said it detected counterfeit APIs originating in India in 33 countries. Another firm reported that counterfeits of its pharmaceutical products sourced in China were detected in 42 countries. Meanwhile, developing countries have a counterfeit prevalence of 10-30 percent or higher, according to 2006 World Health Organization (WHO) figures cited in the OECD report. India has been pinpointed as by far the biggest culprit in making fake drugs - according to 2005 TAXUD statistics released by the European Commission, 75 percent of the global cases of counterfeit medicines originated from India, 7 percent from Egypt and 6 per cent from China....

The article goes on to describe the most common drugs that have been found to be counterfeit. They cover the gamut from those for cancer, erectile dysfunction, cardiology (cholesterol lowering and hypertension), hormones and steroids. Most common were genito-urinary medications, followed by antibiotics and central nervous system drugs. But it made special note of the emergence of another new and troubling trend: the increasing role the internet is playing in the spread of counterfeit products.

In particular, the report highlighted the recent case of the obesity drug Rimonabant, which was falsely advertised for sale over the internet before it had even received EU marketing approval.

According to the Pharmatechnologist, “the criminals responsible for the manufacture and distribution of counterfeit drugs range from individuals including medical professionals such as pharmacists and physicians, to criminal groups, organized crime syndicates, rogue pharmaceutical companies, corrupt local and national officials and terrorist organisations.”

[photo source: Instituto Nacional de Medicamentos - ANMAT, 2006]

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