Counterfeit drugs concern officials

Drugs3_blogAbout one-tenth of the globe’s prescription drugs are counterfeit, according to estimates from the World Health Organization (WHO).

However, in certain developing countries that number jumps to almost 50 percent. Sales of counterfeit drugs are estimated to reach $75 billion annually. Counterfeit drugs are serious problem for several reasons, as Professor Martin McKee of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine told the BBC. First, fake drugs may not actually treat the illness they’re being taken for; second, the ingredients may be toxic and cause additional illness or death; and lastly, fake medicine may contribute to drug resistance if taken at sub-therapeutic levels.

But what constitutes a counterfeit drug? There are several definitions but WHO defines “counterfeit drugs” as a  “drug made by someone other than the genuine manufacturer, by copying or imitating an original product without authority or right, with а view to deceive or defraud, and then marketing the copied or forged drug as the original”.

It’s a significant problem – in Africa, officials estimate 100,000 people die annually because of fake drugs, according to the United Nations. Even more staggering, estimates place the total number globally of deaths linked to fake tuberculosis and malaria drugs even higher at 700,000.

Detecting counterfeit drugs has become increasingly difficult in recent years as those producing counterfeit products have become more sophisticated in their methods, including advanced printing techniques. Counterfeit drugs are attractive to those producing them because medicines are high value, while raw ingredients can be cheaply substituted, at a significant cost to those taking the fake medications.

Currently, some governments have legislation addressing the counterfeit drug problem but it is far from universal, the WHO notes.  Additionally, only of 20 percent of 191 WHO member countries have “well developed drug regulations”. The WHO also developed guidelines to assist countries in developing measures to fight back against counterfeit medicine (available here).

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