How big is the problem?
Counterfeit medicines and medical devices appear everywhere. Most seriously affected is Africa, especially with anti-malarial medication, but the legitimate supply chains in developing and industrialised countries are also compromised. The reports "The Globalization of Crime" and "Transnational Organized Crime in West Africa", published by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime show alarming figures. For example, in 2013, up to 73% of the evaluated anti-malarial medication in Nigeria was substandard.
The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that counterfeits account for between 15% - 30% overall in developing countries, while in industrialised countries the figure is still around 1% in the legitimate supply chain (wholesalers, pharmacies and hospitals).
The situation reports provided by the Pharmaceutical Security Institute over the last decade show counterfeits increasing by a factor of 10, not only for life-style drugs, but also for others, like cancer drugs and hormones. In recent years, theft and diversion of pharmaceuticals increased significantly too.
What are the risks for the patient?
An individual who receives a counterfeit medicine may risk a number of dangerous health consequences.
The drug may
- contain a different quantity of the original active ingredient
- contain totally different active ingredients
- contain toxic ingredients
- bear forged manufacturer's data on the packaging
- have been completely repackaged
- have been produced under conditions that do not conform with current Good Manufacturing Practice (cGMP)
- have not been transported and stored properly
You may experience unexpected side effects, allergic reactions, or a worsening of a medical condition. Such unexpected effects must be reported immediately to a physician. Even worse, counterfeited medicines can kill. Examples can be found on the Interpol web site