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Sunday, May 20th 2012

Counterfeit Medications

Counterfeit pharmaceuticals are on the rise. Consider the several discoveries of fake Avastin in the United States, the latest announcement of such coming just last month.

The FDA said on Tuesday it had identified a new batch of bogus vials of the injectable cancer treatment containing none of Avastin’s active ingredient, bevacizumab.

Britain’s Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) said it was looking into how the latest counterfeit batch entered Britain before being sold in the U.S. market.

With costs of a complete treatment running $40,000 to $100,000 specialized drugs like Avastin are probably the most promising target for counterfeiters. The problem is hard to get ahold of. Many pharmacutical companies in India for example blatantly ignore international patents and produce technically counterfeit drugs, but, admitting the potential questionable production quality, at least intended as efficacious. If you include these violations of intellectual property rights India produces more than 75% of all counterfeit drugs.

What is obviously more alarming however is the problem in the western world, the example like that of Avastin. Less than 1% of all drugs in the United States are counterfeit it is true. But the problem appears to be on the rise.

[T]here is no question that counterfeit medicines are a huge and growing problem, the human costs of which are immense. Patients the world over have suffered injury, nontreatment, and death. High-profile cases include individual tragedies — such as the death of the 18-year-old American Ryan Haight, who in 2001 overdosed on prescription drugs he had purchased online — to public health disasters. During a 1995 meningitis outbreak in Niger, for example, 50,000 people were accidentally inoculated with fake vaccinations. 2,500 of them died. And over the last decade, hundreds of children have died from tainted counterfeit cough syrup.

International organizations like Interpol and WHO certainly take the problems seriously but obviously the tracking of international drugs, as they start to cross borders, is difficult. Without domestic enforcement in countries where production happens the problem is difficult to address. And in many of these country’s their is little available police resources for such a problem low on the triage, and indeed, sometimes there is even a lack of will for such.