Magazine article Drug Topics

Experts Give Clues on How to Stay Clear of Counterfeit Drugs

Magazine article Drug Topics

Experts Give Clues on How to Stay Clear of Counterfeit Drugs

Article excerpt

GOVERNMENT/LAW

If Levi's jeans and Gucci belts are knocked off all the time, can pharmaceuticals be far behind? But whereas fashion knockoffs only dent the sales of the brand companies, pharmaceutical counterfeiting puts patients at risk.

The World Health Organization declares that fake medicines are a global problem. Here in the United States, 5%-7% of pharmaceuticals bought and sold are believed to be counterfeit. Some drugs that have fallen prey to this practice include Prozac, Zantac, Viagra, and others.

These disquieting statistics were provided by Marvin Shepherd, Ph.D., director of the Center for Pharmacoeconomic Studies, University of Texas at Austin, who spoke at the Academy of Managed Care Pharmacy annual meeting in Salt Lake City last month.

What's driving this business? Greed, pure and simple, Shepherd said flatly: "There's money to be had." He pegs the worldwide counterfeit industry at $20-$48 billion. And to underscore that those who engage in this practice mean business, the anticounterfeiting expert told the audience, "I've had threats against my life and family."

Whenever there are marked price differentials between countries and classes of trade, as exist in pharmaceuticals, diversion is bound to emerge, Shepherd said. Abetting this is the weak regulatory control authorities have over this area. He added that the Food & Drug Administration has recommended banning foreign Internet providers of pharmaceuticals, deeming them to be a health hazard, because the agency simply does not have enough resources to handle them.

Shopping for drugs in foreign countries, which many low-income seniors have been doing, is another recipe for disaster, warned Shepherd. He also said that, based in Texas, he has seen many medications bought over the border that are suspect.

Who is engaged in counterfeiting? They range from small garage operations to large international firms, Shepherd said. By day, these operators could be making drugs for large brand firms. By night, they could turn into suppliers for the counterfeit trade. What's more, they often mix legitimate tablets with fake ones to confuse investigators.

There are also storefront operators or shell companies that buy drugs at institutional prices, then sell them to retailers and quickly go out of business to escape being caught. …

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