NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


December 12, 2006

Tempted to buy cheap medicines from a pharmacy Web site?  Think twice.  If the Web site shows no verifiable street address for the pharmacy, there is a 50 percent chance the drugs are counterfeit, says the New York Times.

In rich countries, fake medicines mainly come from virtual stores.  Elsewhere, they are on the pharmacy shelves:

  • In much of the former Soviet Union, 20 percent of the drugs on sale are fakes.
  • In parts of Africa, Asia and Latin America, 30 percent are counterfeit.

The culprits range from mom-and-pop operations processing chalk in their garages to organized-crime networks that buy the complicity of regulators, customs officials and pharmacists.

In Panama, dozens of people died after taking counterfeit drugs made with an industrial solvent.  Often counterfeiters put in real ingredients for their smell or taste, but they are heavily diluted.  This has sped the emergence of resistant strains of infections, and is probably a big reason some malaria drugs and antibiotics have lost their power.

Drug counterfeiting can be fought, says the Times:

  • Five years ago, the majority of Nigeria's drugs were fakes, and the country was a major source of counterfeits abroad.
  • When the Nigerian government donated 88,000 doses of meningitis vaccine to Niger during an epidemic in 1995, the vaccine turned out to be a fake -- causing more than 2,500 children to die.
  • Now the possibility that a drug is fake in Nigeria has dropped to 17 percent, according to the World Health Organization.

Source: Editorial, "Fighting Drug Fakes," New York Times, December 12, 2006.

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