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Inter Press Service Reports On Counterfeit Medicine Challenges In Central, Eastern Europe

“Central and Eastern Europe is facing ‘significant challenges’ in combating a multi-billion euro, and often lethal, trade in fake medicines, security and pharmaceutical groups have warned,” Inter Press Service reports in an article that examines the scope of the problem in a region now “identified as a key smuggling route in an illicit trade which is growing every year.”

According to IPS, “[m]illions of counterfeit tablets and medicines, some of them containing lethal heavy metals, are smuggled annually. … Health experts estimate that fake medicines – made from anything from crushed brick to arsenic – cause up to one million deaths a year, and the U.N. has said they are contributing to growing drug resistance.”

While “India and China are thought to be the main source countries for the fake medicines, … customs officers in central and Eastern Europe have said that they are being brought into Europe on the same smuggling routes used for narcotics and people – through Eastern Europe and the Balkans,” the news service writes. The article details the challenges of monitoring the borders of Eastern Europe for counterfeit drugs and the low levels of public awareness about the dangers of such medications.

Though “Eastern European states have begun to implement stricter penalties for convicted medicine smugglers … health experts, pharmaceutical producers and international organisations want clear laws introduced reflecting the severity of the illegal trade,” IPS writes. “[Gabriel] Turcu [of the European anti-counterfeiting organisation REACT], who last week attended a special conference in Bucharest which brought together country representatives and law enforcement officials from across the region to discuss the threat of counterfeit medicines, told IPS: ‘What is needed is a directive from the E.U. making it mandatory for countries at national level to qualify counterfeiting as a crime and counterfeiting that harms people as a serious crime,'” according to the news service

The article also quotes Kristian Bartholin, who helped draft the Council of Europe convention on counterfeit medicines, and Steve Allen, senior director of global security at the pharmaceutical company Pfizer (Stracansky, 10/28).

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Filling the need for trusted information on national health issues, the Kaiser Family Foundation is a nonprofit organization based in Menlo Park, California.