Counterfeit medicines: A growing health threat


The dangers of fake medicines are due to be addressed in upcoming EU legislation but an international solution may be needed to solve a problem with global implications.

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The problem of counterfeit medicines has grown steadily over the past decade – fuelled in part by the Internet – posing a major public health hazard and becoming a headache for customs authorities.

The volume of fake medicines seized by European authorities has risen but counterfeits continue to find their way into the supply chain. Research has found falsified medicines have been unwittingly sold over-the-counter by retail pharmacies in addition to booming online sales.

Over the past decade, there has been a significant increase in amount of counterfeit medicines reaching consumers across Europe through illicit sources, including the Internet.

Seizures at EU borders have increased from just over half a million articles in 2005 to over four million in 2007. More recently, 34 million fake tablets were seized on European boarders in just two months.

The trade in counterfeit medicine sales has exploded and it is now estimated that global counterfeit drug sales will reach €60 billion this year. In Europe alone, the fake drugs market is estimated to be worth more than €10.5bn every year.

Research suggests that one in five Europeans is putting themselves at risk and admit purchasing prescription-only medicines without a prescription – that's over 77 million people.

The problem affects poor populations just as much as it hits wealthy nations. The WHO estimates that counterfeit drugs constitute up to 25% of the total medicine supply in less developed countries.

According to a report by the International Policy Network, a detailed study of medicines in Africa and South East Asia revealed that between 30% and 60% of medicines were "substandard". The largest producers of fake medicines are India and China, according to the IPN.