The Global Illicit Pharmaceutical Business; A Scourge of the 21st Century

“As much as fifty percent of the medicine sold on the Internet is counterfeit” – WHO

“Counterfeit medicine sales will reach seventy-five billion dollars worldwide this year” – CMPI

Have you consumed fake prescription drugs?  Odds are you have purchased and ingested these concoctions at some point or another, especially if you live in a developing country; with their lax health regulatory environment and acutely corrupt institutions.

“The World Health Organization says the problem with counterfeit medicines is especially bad in Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Middle East. The W.H.O. estimates that up to thirty percent of the medicines on sale in many of those countries are counterfeit.” Up to know industrialized nations, like the United States, Canada, Japan and New Zealand, have kept the problem relatively under control, restricting fakes to approximately one percent of the total prescription and over-the-counter drug’s market. But that is no solace, judging from the effectives of counterfeiters to innovate their packaging and overall appeal online, as huge profits would provide the incentive to continue injecting these often deadly products into the drug supply chain, and in the process grabbing market share (competing as low cost substitutes, effective in a down economy) from legitimate drug companies.

The best weapon in the fake drug profiteers’ toolkit happens to be consumer’s ignorance of the real source of drugs they think will cure them or alleviate an ailment. Product that could be in reality a toxic mix of chemicals; that end up being expensive (cost in human lives/livelihood) placebos.  The stakes are high for the pharmaceutical industry; these companies have had to come up with ways to make fake drugs easy to spot. After all the most effective prevention and eradication method is to disrupt the consumer’s propensity to be duped by worthless and deadly knock-offs, whether they’re in the developed or developing world.

Combating counterfeit medicines is no walk in the park, as small, yet nimble organized crime groups (A loosely federated collection of manufacturers, distributors, and even marketing operations) are dedicated to this racket. They often use new media and social networks (for their anonymity and mass reach) which allows them to hawk their dangerous products while skirting the risk of ever getting caught. To make affront to this global illicit business the pharmaceutical industry would have to go beyond the technology solutions it has implemented and try the true and tested awareness campaigns to make consumers worldwide sensitive to the issue. In closing, I’d advocate bringing these campaigns to the criminals’ own turf, online and through social networks.

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