Is the Medical Profession Playing into the Hands of Fake Drug Suppliers?

More than 30% of all medicines in many African and Asian countries are falsified, rising to 50% for antibiotics making the fake drug market more lucrative than fake handbags and fake watches. Here in the Western world Interpol and other agencies are struggling to keep online drug sales below 1%. But they’re growing, even Tory MPs admit to shopping the world on line for drugs.

Just to be clear, fake drugs look like the real thing, packaging and pill-wise, but they aren’t. Usually they have no active ingredients, which means they don’t work. So, given consumer demand and savvy Internet shoppers you have to ask why a market for these drugs remains viable?

Lets look at the culprits.

The producers are countries where large Western pharma has little influence – India, China and Russia – who make a wide range of “pirate” (real but unlicensed) drugs and who possess the resources to develop parallel counterfeit supplies.

The distributers are illicit supply chains known to policing and regulating agencies; and given this information is also generally available in the public domain you’d think it would be widely promoted to the buying public, but perhaps drug companies are worried the publicity might impact legitimate sales or adversely affect established supply chains.

The problem, I think, is not just supply but also demand.

Internet consumerism has fed our voracious appetite for a quick and cheap deal: if we don’t like the product we can send it back. Not so with drugs. Consumers rarely question the quality of the medications they buy online; even when the drug doesn’t seem to work and especially when they have purchased outside the traditional doctor-dispensing pathway. Indeed, few of us are likely to start a dialogue about the lifestyle medications we purchased online (like slimming potions, sleeping tablets and Viagra) if they haven’t worked.

The reality is that the safe way of transacting health in conventional environments has not yet transferred to the Internet and consumers need to get wise. It is not just “indulgent” pharmaceutical products at issue here. Counterfeit cancer medicines, such as fake Avastin, are also sold on the Internet.

What consumers do understand is their right to expose rogue suppliers. The dialogue about these transactions needs to be opened up: in internet chats and on social media, with health care providers, local politicians and regulatory agencies – anyone who can help to root out rogue producers and suppliers and force change in an environment that is currently, whether deliberately or otherwise, nurturing fake supplies.

In this era of shrinking clinical resources opportunities to shift tasks, such as the provision of medications, away from hospitals and other health care institutions should be encouraged. But unless we can make the trafficking of counterfeit drugs as dire as terrorism, nothing is likely to change in a hurry.

2 thoughts on “Is the Medical Profession Playing into the Hands of Fake Drug Suppliers?

  1. More than 30% of all medicines in many African and Asian countries are falsified, rising to 50% for antibiotics….
    The above statement is absolutely right because the figures shown are all probabilities.
    This is not an issue of the nation being responsible for the importation of most drugs, rather, a lot of drugs are been manufactured locally which appears to what I’ll refer to as “fake-of-the-original”.

    Poor quality medicines are the source of an alarming, but often overlooked global health crisis. A report from the International Policy Network estimates that 700,000 people die every year from fake anti-malarial and tuberculosis drugs alone.

    According to USP, the scourge of illegal medicines is especially problematic in developing countries. Tackling the problem is difficult, because it requires systemic change – strengthening regulatory environments as well as local pharmaceutical and healthcare industries.

    Countries like Nigeria in the Western Africa, formed National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) Central Drug Control Laboratory (CDCL) Lagos, which became the 3rd national quality control lab in Africa to achieve ISO 17025 accreditation with support from PQM (Promoting the Quality of medicines); some of the objectives of the NAFDAC which includes the checkmate of illicit and counterfeit products in Nigeria under the country’s Health and Safety Law 1993.

    Most underdeveloped and developing countries in the world are faced with a lot of problems which includes Illiteracy, ignorance, poverty, poor governance, unemployment etc… These I feel helps to boast the manufacture and circulations of fake & counterfeit drugs; cheap online purchase is not really a case here as this (Online shopping) isn’t as common as it is in the developed nations.

    It’s very clear that these fake-of-the-original drugs have been and are still in circulation; it’s not just the duty of the regulatory bodies and the Government to tackle this problem, rather it’s something everyone has got a role to play. When their are no jobs for university graduates, especially those that read pharmacy (or related courses), most of them will resort in sourcing for capitals to open up labs where most of these drugs are manufactured… The patients and the common man are to be educated about the consequences of buying cheap drugs from their local chemists & pharmacies; and this reminds me of one advert that says, “it’s your right to know the name of any tablet you’re about to take… No matter where it’s coming from”, as most government and private hospitals helps in the circulation of these cheap drugs and by so doing, they tend to administer the drugs to their patients in packs that are different from the original.


  2. Drugs in many African and Asian countries are falsified, rising to 50% for antibiotics …
    Hmm, not so sure about this generalisation. Where national authorities purchase drugs, one would expect them to buy authentic products from reliable suppliers in bulk. Medecins Sans Frontieres and other large NGOs source and test drugs for quality before buying large quantities. So who is buying fake drugs? Local pharmacists?

    Patients going on line? In less well developed countries, there is no reliable postal service. Even in low/middle income countries like Swaziland, the post from overseas is haphazard.

    I suppose if there is no government central medical stores arranging for national purchasing, then the market will turn to the cheapest products available. This may be where the bulk of fake drugs are bought.
    I recall talking to a hospital doctor in Ethiopia ten years ago. I noticed the dose of generic drug X he had prescribed was very high. He told me that the drug had been made in India and was less potent than US/European sourced medications. So he doubled the dose. But this is a different issue.


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