Technology is not the answer, at least not for tackling pharmaceutical counterfeiting. Instead, increasing criminal sanctions and encouraging relevant parties to work with “certified and reliable partners” are the real solutions.
This is the key message from Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe MEP Antonyia Parvanova at the recent European Parliament event ”How can the supply chain protect patients against counterfeit medicines in the EU?” organized by the European Generic medicines Association (EGA).
“Costly technology should only be considered as a secondary line of defense if all the other measures are proven to fail…it is tough criminal sanctioning and not barcoding that is going to stop counterfeiters,” stressed Parvanova in a press release issue by the EGA.
According to the Council of Europe it is “preparing a convention to combat counterfeit and illegal medicines and healthcare products, including those being offered on the web.” The convention aims to criminalize offenses and protect victims. The scope of the convention will include manufacturing, supply, offering to supply, trafficking of counterfeit medicinal products, and falsification of documents.
Although drug counterfeiting is on the increase, Greg Perry, EGA director general, advised that patients must not be alarmed because very few medicines infiltrate legal supply chains thanks to the control measures already in place at borders. Also, counterfeiters only seem to be targeting branded drugs—a market that is far more lucrative than generics; for example, the industry is witnessing a rise in fake flu drugs as counterfeiters attempt to cash in on public fears surrounding the H1N1 swine flu epidemic.
Yet, during a presentation at CPhI Worldwide earlier this year, Guy Villax, EFCG board member advised that EU generics containing ‘falsified APIs’ (or not from the approved, labeled source) could be as high as 30%.
Clearly, whatever the figures are, counterfeiting of drugs, branded or generic, is a real threat to patients and requires immediate and effective action on a global scale. What that solution is, I don’t know.
I wonder how much sanctions will really deter criminals. Will harder penalties stop people engaging in such activites or will they just encourage them to be more creative and more determined not to get caught?
Despite the hard talk and promises to clamp down on criminals working in the fake drug arena, pharma companies continue to innovate anticounterfeiting technology; for example, Colorcon and ARmark Authentication Technologies have recently announced in a press release their alliance in the development and introduction of mark On-Dose ID, an “authentication technology that incorporates microscopic covert micro-tags into the immediate-release film coatings of solid oral dosage forms.”
As internet sales of fake drugs continue to rise at an alarming rate, more needs to be done to ‘educate’ the public of the danger of buying pharmaceuticals online, which is a tall challenge in today’s tough economic climate—accessible and cheap products are extremely alluring!
Perhaps there is no one solution and the way to safeguard patients from counterfeit medicines is a multipronged approach. If the policy makers take a harder line with criminals, pharma companies continue to design anticounterfeit technologies that are difficult to replicate, and the public allow themselves to take heed of the advice being given, perhaps the fake drugs market will ebb, and patient confidence and safety will rise.
Just looking at some of the comments from various online Twitterers, I have come across “Fake drugs making me feel alright,” “Had to drive across Birmingham today with three bags of fake drugs. So glad I wasn’t pulled over!” and “Stop buying fakes off websites then… Get them from your local drug dealer instead, they must be better from him/her” reinforces one fact: if there’s a market for counterfeit drugs, criminals will continue to feed the demand.