Pharmaceutical crime: a major threat to public health

Pharmaceutical crime involves the manufacture, commerce and distribution of counterfeit medication, stolen or illegal, and of medical devices. It includes the falsification of medical products, its packaging and associated documentation, as well as theft, fraud, illegal sale, smuggling, illegal trafficking of medical products and the laundering of the money involved.

There is an important increase in the manufacture, commerce and distribution of counterfeit medication, stolen or illegal, and of medical devices. Patients all over the world put their health, and even their lives, at risk, without knowing it, when they consume false, badly stored medication or medication that has expired.

Illegal medication may contain the wrong doses of the active ingredient, or none at all, or a different ingredient. They are linked to a range of dangers and, in the worst of cases, may cause a heart attack, stroke or death.

The growing prevalence of counterfeit or illegal goods has become more serious because of the increase in internet commerce, where it is simple to buy such products, economically and without a prescription. It is impossible to estimate how widespread the problem is, but in some areas counterfeit products from Asia, Africa and Latin America could amount to 30% of the market.

Organised crime networks are attracted to the enormous profits made with pharmaceutical crime. They operate across national borders with activities that include importing, exporting, the manufacture and distribution of counterfeit and illegal medication. Coordinated and intersectoral action on an international scale is, therefore, vital to identify, investigate and prosecute the criminals behind such crimes. An analytical report of INTERPOL examines the links between pharmaceutical crime and organised crime.

Counterfeit medication is now a truly global phenomenon, and all countries in the world are affected as points of origin, transit or destination.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that as much as 1% of the medication available in the developed world is probably counterfeit. This figure increases to 10% on a worldwide scale.

Counterfeiting not only applies to “lifestyle” medication, including erectile dysfunction and weight loss medication, but also includes life-saving medication, such as ones used to cure cancer, heart disorders and other serious illnesses.

Many people buy medication and medical devices via Internet, via online pharmacies and auction sites. Unfortunately, many of such Internet sites are neither authorised, nor regulated and sell illegal or substandard products.

If an online supplier hides its physical address, it is a warning sign that its products may be dangerous. The WHO estimates that 50% of the medication available on these websites is counterfeit.

The purchase of medication online may seem cheaper, faster and more convenient than going to a doctor or a pharmacy, but the dangers far outweigh the benefits. To be able to check out this area, the following helpful links are provided:

Purchasing medication via Internet, US food administration

Purchasing medication via Internet, Health Canada

Guidance and information for consumers, medication and healthcare products UK regulating agency(MHRA).

Beware of falsified products, Bayer Healthcare

Anti-counterfeiting, Lilly

The fight against counterfeit medication, Les Laboratoires Servier

Lloc Auf der Sicheren (only in German)

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