NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

The Murderous Trade in Fake Drugs

April 9, 2002

The World Health Organization estimates that 10 percent of global pharmaceutical commerce is in fake drugs. Most of this trade takes place in the developing world, particularly Southeast Asia, where traffickers have networks of distributors as well as laboratories for making pills.

According to recent reports on counterfeit drugs:

  • A recent survey of pharmacies in the Philippines found 8 percent of drugs bought were fakes.
  • A countrywide survey in Cambodia in 1999 showed that 60 percent of 133 drug vendors sampled sold, as the antimalarial mefloquine, tablets that contained the ineffective but much cheaper sulphadoxine-pyrimethamine, obtained from stocks that should have been destroyed, or fakes that contained no drug at all.
  • Another recent survey found that 38 percent of tablets sold in five countries in mainland Southeast Asia as the new antimalarial artesunate were phony.

The use of fake drugs is not only killing people, it is also sending the incorrect message that parasites are becoming resistant to vital medicines. For example, reports of resistance to a key antimalarial in Cambodia turned out in fact to be due to the use of fake inactive drugs.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta cites the need to promote simple, low-tech and inexpensive techniques for developing countries to evaluate drugs.

Source: Paul N. Newton, et al., "Murder by Fake Drugs," British Medical Journal, April 6, 2002; Emma Young, "'Murderous trade' in Fake Drugs Must be Fought," News Service, April 5, 2002.

For BMJ text


Browse more articles on Health Issues