The Partnership for Safe Medicines
Weekly UpdateApril 19, 2010
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Across the Pond: Counterfeit Medicines in the UK

Lately, we've posted a lot about counterfeit drug issues in the U.S., as well as our recommendations to government agencies on how to better protect Americans from this growing threat to public health.

Other developed nations are addressing the same problems.

In January, the United Kingdom's (UK) Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology (POST) published a short report on measures underway in the UK to address counterfeit drugs, which includes an emphasis on awareness, addressing online pharmacies, anti-counterfeiting technologies and legislation.

POST notes that in addition to issuing alerts when it identifies a public health risk, the UK's Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) staffs a 24-hour hotline for reporting counterfeits and encourages all agencies from police to pharmacies to report suspect drugs. MHRA is working on public education campaigns and private industry is also doing its part to spread awareness about the dangers of counterfeit drugs, including the ongoing campaign run by Pfizer.

Online Pharmacies
The private and public sectors are also working on raising awareness of illicit online pharmacies. POST noted that the European Alliance for Access to Safe Medicines (EAASM) estimates that 62 percent of Web sites that conceal their physical address supply counterfeit drugs.

To combat counterfeit drugs online, EEASM has proposed that internet search and credit card companies bar unauthorized sites from search results and impose extra checks on transactions. The Royal Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain has an accreditation system that identifies legitimate online pharmacies with a logo.

Anti-Counterfeiting Technologies
POST also noted the promise in anti-counterfeiting technology, including tools already in use, such as:

  • Specialized printing and security inks
  • Holograms
  • Watermarks
  • Tamper-evident packaging

And while packaging has been known to be mimicked by counterfeiters, POST wrote that emerging technologies at the supply level-such as unique identification numbers, 2-D barcodes and Radio Frequency Identification tagging under trial in the U.S.-are "widely supported but raise[s] issues of costs and agreement on a harmonized system for use in the global supply chain.

Policy and Legislation
According to POST, MHRA is "seeking to raise tariffs on counterfeit offenses and is consulting on policies to improve the security of the regulated national supply chain. In the broader European Union (EU), POST wrote that the European Commission outlined proposals to tackle counterfeit drugs in 2006, and will likely approve a directive on falsified medicines in 2010. Proposals to prevent counterfeits from entering the supply chain include:

  • Tighter import requirements for medicines and ingredients from outside the EU, including more robust inspections and enforcement
  • Using mandatory safety features (like individual product codes or seals) on high-risk medicines
  • More rigorous inspection of wholesale

Speaking into drug importation back in November, I noted that our likenesses and strong historical connection with the British can provide a false sense of security about the UK's supply chain for prescription drugs.

However, reports like those from POST remind us that no country is truly safe from counterfeit medicines-and that we must continue toward the goal of mitigating this threat from all angles.
Top News

US: Stolen Drugs Present Mounting Risk to Consumers


Prescription drugs are becoming a growing target for thieves as some medications are worth more than gold, ounce for ounce. At a recent break-in at an Eli Lilly warehouse in Enfield, Connecticut, thieves drove off with $75 million worth of prescription pills for depression and schizophrenia. Last year, a parked truck containing insulin was left unattended briefly and more than 100,000 vials were stolen. Through theft and collaboration and due to lax supervision, these stolen and counterfeit drugs can be sold back into the legitimate drug pipeline. For example, some of the stolen insulin was dispensed to diabetics and because the stolen vials had not been properly refrigerated, some patients experienced problems with blood-sugar control. (Snatched: Drugs Rank High in Stolen Goods, Pasadena Star, April 14, 2010; Story here)

World News

US: Counterfeit Incidents Increase Worldwide


More than 100 countries reported incidents of counterfeit drugs in 2008. And industry insiders say the number of counterfeit drugs on the market is increasing by as much as 25 percent a year. In Ghana, an estimated 4,000 children die every year from counterfeit medications for malaria. In the West, consumers have purchased online counterfeit drugs containing rat poison and have died as a result. Countries around the world are fighting the problem in innovative ways but the counterfeiters are proving equally innovative. In order to fight this increase, stronger international law enforcement is needed. ("Counterfeit Drugs Post Growing Public Health Threat," Voice of America, April 10, 2010; Story here)



Taiwan: Premier Takes Lead on Prioritizing the Fight Against Counterfeit Drugs


Premier Wu Den-yih announced that strengthening crackdowns on counterfeit drugs and underground radio stations were done to protect the public's health. Some underground radio stations in Taiwan broadcast advertisements for counterfeit or substandard medicine and the premier asked authorities to crack down in response. From Jan. 1 to April 14, police uncovered 65 cases involving the sale of unlicensed drugs and arrested eight suspects. Speaking at a Cabinet meeting, Wu stated that it is the government's responsibility to eradicate the sale of unlicensed drugs and that all departments should work diligently toward that goal. (Premier Stresses Determination to Fight Counterfeit Drugs, Focus Taiwan, April 15, 2010; Story here)

About the Partnership for Safe Medicines
The Partnership for Safe Medicines is a group of organizations and individuals that have policies, procedures, or programs to protect consumers from counterfeit or contraband medicines. For more information, please visit