Counterfeiters often pump out fakes of Pfizer's ED drug Viagra, but they also like its anxiety drug Xanax. Proof of that came last week when Swissmedic discovered 1 million counterfeit Xanax pills on a jet headed from China to Egypt.
The regulator says the drugs were so carefully copied they were not initially identified as counterfeit, Bloomberg reports. But tests confirmed they were fakes, and now they will be destroyed.
Counterfeiting is big business, amounting to an estimated $75 billion a year worldwide. But it is also a deadly one. Samples of counterfeit Viagra tested by Pfizer ($PFE) have contained pesticides, wallboard, commercial paint and printer ink. Many of the counterfeits are sold over Internet pharmacies which regulators try to monitor but which often pop up on another host site as soon as action is taken to close them. Pfizer this year decided to try to take away some of the draw that these sites have by making Viagra available on its own online site, allowing buyers to get the drug discretely but without the risk of getting a fake.
Counterfeits make their way into the U.S. and other developed countries, but they often originate and land in places with weak enforcement. Big Pharma is trying to help in that regard. Two dozen drugmakers this year agreed to donate €4.5 million ($5.9 million) over three years so the international crime fighter can do a better job of tracking them down. But that is not much in the face of what counterfeiters can earn. Swissmedic said through June it had seized about 90 shipments this year representing a high potential health risk.
Of course Xanax is a popular drug worldwide. In fact, when a manufacturing changeover created shortages of it in the United Arab Emirates for several weeks last year, UAE regulators expedited approval to resolve the situation.
- here's the Bloomberg story