Fake drugs cost EU billions of euros, its health and its jobs

Illicit drugs are readily available in Thailand, China and India, and are finding their way onto the EU market. [Shutterstock]

Counterfeit drugs are not only hazardous to health, they cost people their jobs too, a new EU study has revealed. But Germans, in particular, are willing to take risks. EURACTIV’s partner Der Tagesspiegel reports.

The EU’s pharmaceutical industry haemorrhages €10.2 billion because of counterfeit drugs, according to estimates by the European Union Intellectual Property Office (EUIPO). Loss of sales came to about 4.4% of EU-wide totals. EUIPO experts concluded that Germany loses about €1 billion or 2.9% of total revenue.

Sales of illicit drugs also had an impact on the job market, as legal manufacturers and distributors ended up employing far fewer people as a result. EU experts estimate that 37,700 jobs have bit the dust directly as a result of the counterfeiting racket and a further 53,200 have been lost in other sectors indirectly. Nearly 7,000 German pharmaceutical workers have lost their jobs.

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EU authorities have also estimated that government revenues have also been hard hit; fake drugs have cost €1.7 billion per year.

EUIPO Executive Director Antonio Campinos highlighted how his agency’s study had gone beyond the impact on health of counterfeit drugs and delved into their economic effect. World Health Organisation (WHO) analysis has also shown that it is not over-the-counter generic drugs being falsified, it is also innovative medication, such as anti-cancer drugs that are being illicitly produced.

In the spring, German Federal Minister of Finance Wolfgang Schäuble (CDU) warned about increased drug counterfeiting. Last year, customs officials seized nearly 4 million counterfeit pills, nearly quadrupling the total number confiscated the year before. The most common types of meds that were seized were drugs intended to treat erectile dysfunction, slimming pills and anabolic steroids. Many originated in China, India and Thailand.

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The European Commission is determined to further strengthen its antimicrobial resistance action for the period beyond 2016, an EU official has told EURACTIV.com, dismissing allegations that the EU executive lacks the political will to do so.

But Germans seem willing to take the risk, according to research, and will readily take to the internet to buy potentially dangerous counterfeit drugs. Customs officials ran an operation where they set up a fake online drug distributor and found that 1,400 people placed orders, illustrating the willingness of consumers to take to the black market for their fix.


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