Fake Pharmaceuticals A Growing Concern for Regulators

While most of the prescription drugs sold in the United States are what they appear to be on their packaging, a growing number of counterfeit pharmaceuticals have infiltrated foreign markets. A wide range of drugs, from Viagra to heart and cancer medicines, have been found to be faked or made in substandard facilities with minimal quality control, Fierce Pharma reported.

Officials recognize that the problem is on the rise, but regulating the entire supply chain from raw materials to retailers is a complex and difficult task. Dan Rather recently reported on counterfeit drugs being sold in Lagos, Nigeria. Many small markets in Lagos were found to be selling fake prescription drugs. Thousands of people have died in Nigeria after taking fake malaria drugs that failed to cure the deadly illness, the article said.

U.S. pharmaceutical companies spend millions of dollars to combat counterfeit drug operations around the world, both to protect profits and to save lives, the Huffington Post article reported. Government pharmaceutical regulators in India currently offer rewards for information on counterfeit drug producers and have increased legal consequences for those convicted of selling fake drugs, the Fierce Pharma article said.

A Star article exposed the rampant counterfeit drug production problem in India. The article said, “Experts say the global fake-drug industry, worth about $90 billion (U.S.), causes the deaths of almost 1 million people a year and is contributing to a rise in drug resistance.”

Experts estimate that anywhere from 1% to 25% of drugs produced in India are counterfeit. The reward program started by the Indian Health Ministry offers $55,000 for information on fake pharmaceutical drug producers. Anyone convicted of selling fake drugs in India can currently be sentenced to life in prison. Officials arrested 147 people last year alone in fake drug cases.

Fake pharmaceuticals include expired drugs, water-filled vials, and chalk powder in packets and capsules. Experts and regulators remain uncertain about the amount of counterfeit pharmaceuticals on the global market, but they estimate much higher percentages in third world countries than those in more developed nations.