Dangerous meds are available everywhere

Daylife/AP Photo used by permission

The worldwide counterfeit drug market is huge and growing. The Center for Medicine in the Public Interest estimates that in 2010 the trade reaped around $75 billion, a 90 percent increase since 2005. Over the same period, the Pharmaceutical Security Institute…documented a huge increase in discoveries of counterfeit pharmaceutical products…The World Health Organization previously estimated that as much as 15 percent of the medicine in circulation around the world could be fake. These drugs occupy a wide spectrum of medications, and their quality is suspect; they can be mislabeled, tainted, adulterated, ineffective, or, in the worst cases, all of the above…

Last February, counterfeit Avastin, a widely used cancer drug, was detected in 19 U.S. medical practices in California, Texas, and Illinois. They apparently purchased what they thought was real Avastin from a foreign supplier known as Montana Health Care Solutions…They should have known better, as only a few distributors are authorized to sell Avastin in the United States. Montana Health Care Solutions’ owner is also a key supplier of a large Canadian online pharmacy, CanadaDrugs.com. Further investigations revealed that the fake Avastin had traveled through a number of countries, including Turkey, Egypt, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom, before reaching the United States.

So even in such heavily regulated countries as the United States and Europe, fake drugs are now available — primarily through online distributors. Without any oversight, people or businesses from virtually any country with Internet access can find and purchase pharmaceuticals from somewhere else in the world. In fact, the U.S. National Association of Boards of Pharmacy recently reviewed more than 9,600 online pharmacies and found that 97 percent were “not recommended,” meaning that they did not comply with applicable laws and standards…

Global policy has not kept up with the burgeoning counterfeit drug trade. Specifically, cooperation on the illegal trade has gotten caught up in the battle over intellectual property rights (IPR) among public health organizations, countries, civil societies, and pharmaceutical manufacturers. Although this debate centers mostly on generic medicines, illegal copies have been taken along for the ride. On one side, industry representatives argue in favor of harsh penalties for all potentially IPR-infringing medicines, including unapproved versions. On the other side, several nongovernmental organizations and developing countries complain that such enforcement would unduly impede the poorest countries’ access to essential medicines. Complicating matters is that there is no real global consensus on what “counterfeit” means, and laws to combat such fraud are a patchwork at best…

Counterfeit meds are now as global as any legitimate business. If countries, governments, don’t get their act together criminals will take a share of demand and profit. This may be the most menacing public health and patient safety threat of this generation.

Corporations seem to think that this is just a small part of their fight over intellectual property rights. But, it’s the part that places the lives of patients deeper in danger.

One thought on “Dangerous meds are available everywhere

  1. moss says:

    We’re sort of fortunate in the Southwest to be able to access reputable pharmacies in Mexico. And I’m certain I could count on kin in Canada to check out mail order sources for me if I ever decided to order online from that miasma of “today’s special offer” in cyberspace.

    But, the crooks of the world make the process scarier and less safe every day. Since our jurisprudence in the US is dedicated only to protecting the profits of Pharmaceutical corporations, we can’t count on any protection from Law and Order.

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