Just how big is the counterfeit-drug problem?

Pharma, law-enforcement and government officials agree that counterfeit prescription drugs are a growing problem, but just how big of a problem is open to debate. The Wall Street Journal today reports that commonly cited WHO stats on fake drugs--that they make up 10 percent of the global market--are probably quite inflated.

Indeed, the WSJ reports, WHO itself has disclaimed that figure, which came from a 1999 study of meds in Myanmar and Vietnam. Fake drug rates vary country by country, the WHO now says. They make up less than one percent of medications sold in developed countries, but between 10 percent and 30 percent in emerging markets.

Meanwhile, a Washington Post story looks at the frequency of counterfeiting in India, discovering that some experts estimate 12 percent to 25 percent of drugs in that market are fake, whereas government estimates put the proportion of outright fakes at a much-lower 0.4 percent and substandard meds at eight percent.

Of course, Indian officials are worried that counterfeiting will taint its pharmaceuticals industry; it's trying to crack down by offering rewards for info on fake-drug makers and increasing penalties for those found guilty. Indian drugmakers, meanwhile, sometimes look the other way, fearing publicity about fake versions of their drugs will make them look bad. "We are behaving like ostriches with our heads in the sand," think-tank expert Barun Mitra tells the Post. Something to think about as Big Pharma continues to expand on the subcontinent.

- check out the WSJ piece
- get the story from the Post