[Ip-health] News: Bay Ledger News Zone- Eastern Europe confronts fake medicines trade
Marine at haieurope.org
Thu Oct 28 06:03:49 PDT 2010
Eastern Europe confronts fake medicines trade
by Mihaela Rodina
AFP Global Edition
Oct 20, 2010 23:47
More than 120 anti-counterfeit specialists from six Eastern European
countries met in Romania on Wednesday and Thursday to step up the fight
against a risky business estimated to be 75 billion dollars (54 billion
euros) worldwide in 2010.
"There is an important Balkan route for fake medicines, which is the
same as for heroin and other narcotics," Hungarian customs officer
Karolyi Szep told AFP at the meeting called by the world's leading
pharmaceutical company Pfizer.
Such drugs can contain no active ingredients at all or 8,000 times the
required amount, or heavy metals such as arsenic, lead-based paint,
brick dust or floor wax -- content that poses major health risks and can
lead to death.
Today most of the sales are done via the Internet, which has multiplied
the trade -- and the risks -- exponentially.
According to the World Health Organisation, one in two medicines sold
online are fake.
"People who buy medicines on the Internet are playing Russian roulette
with their own lives," Steve Allen, senior director of Pfizer Global
Security, told AFP.
Allen said 63 million fake Pfizer tablets, vials and capsules as well as
enough active ingredient to manufacture an additional 64 million have
been seized worldwide since 2004.
"But this is just the tip of the iceberg," he warned.
"Fighting back counterfeiters can't be done by one country or by one
organisation, it calls for a synergy of efforts," he said. "We are
dealing with organised crime gangs, there is no doubt about it."
Considered a low-risk and high-reward business, counterfeit medicines
have become increasingly alluring to narcotics smugglers.
"Supply techniques are identical, but the punishment is not," Allen
said, stressing that in certain countries manufacturing or selling fake
medicines is not considered a crime.
In one case of narcotics and fake medicines going hand in hand, Turkish
police seized 6,000 counterfeit Viagra pills smuggled with 378,000
ecstasy tablets and enough ingredients to manufacture 51 kilogrammes
(110 pounds) of heroin.
The Bucharest meeting brought together representatives of Romania, the
Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Slovakia and Ukraine.
The former Soviet bloc has made important progress in recent years in
fighting counterfeit medicines, said Gabriel Turcu, a senior partner in
leading European anti-counterfeiting network REACT.
Most countries in the region have toughened legislation and some are
even setting an example for their Western neighbours. In Romania, fake
drugs smugglers have for the first time been sentenced to prison this
"Years ago, judges would deem counterfeiting T-shirts or medicines was
the same. Now their perception has changed," Turcu said.
But he stressed that "the countries lying on the European Union's
Eastern border are facing major challenges when it comes to fake goods
The developed countries are hardly safer.
"What is most alarming is that counterfeit medicines have been detected
in the legitimate supply chains in 45 countries, including the US, the
United Kingdom and Canada," Pfizer Global Security strategy director
Rubie Mages said.
Calling for increased public awareness, experts and law enforcement
authorities stressed that deaths caused by fake medicines are often
attributed to natural causes.
"This scourge cannot be fought pill by pill," Turcu said, adding that
medicines can be smuggled quite easily and often go unnoticed in a bag.
After 25 years in the field, Karolyi Szep, the customs officer, has
developed a knack for spotting counterfeiting and is training younger
customs officers in "human and car behaviour", giving them tips as to
what makes a person, or a vehicle, look suspicious.
He cites the case of a smuggler who was uncovered when he could not bend
to pick up his passport, which had been purposefully dropped by an
officer: he was wearing a belt filled with counterfeit medicines.
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