By David Pyott
The tide of counterfeit and illegally imported drugs and medical devices continues to be strong, as difficult economic times drives demand for seemingly cheaper alternatives. The sophistication of the counterfeiters and illegal importers makes this an increasingly difficult battle to wage, but the threat these illegally imported drugs pose to consumers is real, making it essential that government agencies, with support from industry, continue efforts to help battle this issue.
We saw a clear example of this earlier this year when the international police agency Interpol announced a three-year funding commitment from more than two dozen pharmaceutical companies to support Interpol’s Pharmaceutical Crime Program. This program will help health agencies, police and customs bureaus around the world halt the supply of counterfeit brand-name and generic medicines through training, alerts, and pilot programs to test new strategies. These pilot programs are expected to more quickly identify trends in where drugs are being counterfeited and distributed and where the crime rings that run these operations reside.
The incentive for trafficking illegal imports and counterfeits is clear: there is money to be made and a lot of it. The World Health Organization estimates sales of medicines that are “counterfeit, contaminated or otherwise illegal” total $430 billion a year. In developing countries, they estimate that as much as half of the drug supply may be counterfeit. That’s a great deal more than in developed countries, where most of the illicit drugs are sold through offshore internet pharmacies, but counterfeit and illegally imported drugs have been increasingly getting into the supply of pharmacies, hospitals, clinics, and medical offices.
Over the last year in the United States, the Food and Drug Administration has issued multiple warnings of foreign and unlicensed suppliers providing unapproved drugs and have issued warnings to medical practices which have purchased from illegal importers. Allergan, as with many other pharmaceutical companies, has a number of measures in place to blunt illegal importation and counterfeiting, ranging from specialized packaging to rigorous processes in storage and transportation. Allergan reports instances involving the potential illegal importation of our products to Federal authorities and, in some cases, to state and local authorities and medical and pharmacy boards. We also encourage physicians and patients to report any suspected illegal activity to the FDA Office of Criminal Investigations.
Stemming the tide of illegal imports and counterfeits is, and will continue to be, a significant priority for the pharmaceutical industry. Consumers are the ones who are impacted the most from illegal products, which is a huge incentive for us to actively support the work of regulators and all forms of law enforcement to halt this practice.