by George Miller and Eric Duggan
Drug counterfeiting has become a $200-billion business annually, according to the World Customs Organization. By some calculations, the counterfeiting trade has become more lucrative than the narcotics business. It's a global problem. And experts say that solving it--or at least stemming the tide--requires the participation of both government and industry.
Top counterfeit drug types
- Central nervous system
The Pharmaceutical Security Institute is one example of a stakeholder collaboration that's fighting fake drugs. PSI chief executive Thomas Kubic says in a phone interview that he counts 2,003 incidents involving 808 different drug products that were counterfeited, illegally diverted or stolen last year. That's a worldwide total, and it includes branded, generic and over-the-counter drugs.
Chart courtesy of PSI
Counterfeiters will manufacture a product to resemble any type of drug. Medications for chronic conditions are most popular, from hypertensive drugs to diabetes medicines. Antibiotics, corticosteroids, drugs for erectile dysfunction, cancer drugs and antiretrovirals for HIV/AIDS are also among those most counterfeited. According to PSI, however, criminal organizations now target drugs in every therapeutic category.
Top therapeutic areas for counterfeits, in terms of number of incidents, are cardiovascular, central nervous system, cytostatic, anti-infective, musculoskeletal and alimentary, Kubic says. He notes that last year marked the fifth straight in which medicines for genitourinary (including a counterfeiter-favorite category, erectile dysfunction), anti-inflammatory and central nervous system conditions topped the counterfeit list. Alimentary drugs, he says, experienced a staggering 57 percent increase in counterfeits between 2008 and 2009, with "a big bump from Latin America."
Chart courtesy of PSI
The World Health Organization estimates that counterfeit drugs make up ten percent of the drug market worldwide. That breaks down to 30 to 40 percent (sometimes higher) in developing countries versus perhaps one percent in developed countries.
But counterfeits are on the rise in developed countries, thanks largely to the prevalence of online pharmacies. The FDA periodically buys drugs online and routinely finds that more than half are fakes.
Click here to begin the report >>