NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

The Deadly World of Falsified and Substandard Medicine

October 24, 2012

More deaths are caused by dangerous therapeutic medicines than narcotics. Lazy manufacturers and counterfeiters pump the market full of medicine that can kill people, says Roger Bate, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute.

  • Before Syria's civil war, Damascus was home to counterfeit drug operations worth tens of millions of dollars.
  • Since then, many of those counterfeiters have moved to Iraq or Iran to continue making around 80 brands of fake drugs.
  • Nearly 100,000 deaths per year can be attributed to bad medicines.
  • Furthermore, 10 percent of all essential drugs fail basic quality tests.

Attributing the cause of death to a fake drug proves to be a difficult task. Take for instance Plavix, a widely used heart medication. If someone were to take counterfeit Plavix and die, the death would be attributed to the ill health of the patient, not the medicine.

Producers of substandard medicine have also become an increasing problem for established drugmakers. Nothing about these operations is illegal; these companies pay taxes and create jobs. Emerging drug markets in India and China are at the forefront of many drug categories, notably anti-infectives.

These companies benefit from being able to cut corners and deal with lax regulations. In many cases, regulators don't have the resources to conduct thorough inspections of production plants or products on the market. Furthermore, these companies offer better prices, which drives competitors out of the market. 

Governments can't work alone in trying to stop entire networks working globally to inject counterfeits and substandard medicines into the market. Instead, international treaties need to be established or international laws strengthened to help crackdown on these cases. But more importantly, regulators and customers need to demand better quality products.

Source: Roger Bate, "The Deadly World of Falsified and Substandard Medicine," American Enterprise Institute, October 16, 2012.


Browse more articles on Health Issues