Media Examine Fight Against Counterfeit Drugs

The Wall Street Journal reports on the recent shutdown of a counterfeit drug ring in Syria, while highlighting a broader problem with counterfeit medicines in the Middle East. Authorities intercepted “millions of dollars worth of breast cancer, leukemia and other medicines … At least 65 people were detained; it couldn’t be learned if they were charged. A trial date hasn’t yet been set,” according to the newspaper, which notes that the drug ring distributor’s activities had also penetrated into some public health systems, “particularly in Iraq.”

The Syrian Health Minister Reda Saed said a significant portion of the fake drugs came from China. Officials said the Syrian operation was one of the main drug rings in the country, the newspaper writes. According to the Wall Street Journal, “Smuggling of drugs remains a widespread and dangerous problem. Figures from the World Health Organization show it can reach 35% of all drugs in the Middle East, compared to less than 1% in the U.S. and Western Europe.”

The article also looks at how the sophistication of counterfeit networks and the absence of certain laws help fake drug networks thrive in the Middle East (Faucon, 2/15).

In related news, a Pfizer-sponsored study, published on Tuesday, found that “Western Europeans spend an estimated 10.5 billion euros ($14.3 billion) a year on illicitly sourced medicines, many of them counterfeit,” Reuters reports. “Jim Thomson, chairman of the European Alliance for Access to Safe Medicines, which receives funding from the drug industry, said tests by his group had shown that 62 percent of medicines purchased online were fake or substandard,” according to the news service.

Reuters also notes that “counterfeit medicines often contain the wrong or even toxic ingredients and are a growing health threat worldwide, especially in poor countries, according to the World Health Organization” (Hirschler, 2/16).

A related story by Lancet World Report says that “India, the leading supplier of low-cost generic drugs to Africa, has begun fighting back to counter the confusion surrounding counterfeit drugs in the region.” According to the Lancet, India has asked Kenya to make changes to a recent law that some critics say “blurs the distinctions between generic, substandard, and counterfeit drugs” and could set a precedent for other African countries (Chatterjee, 2/13).

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