At the Partnership for Safe Medicines (PSM), we've long cautioned consumers about the dangers of counterfeit drugs—a growing issue affecting all corners of the globe.

Now, the Pfizer-commissioned study, "Cracking Counterfeit Europe," has estimated that the counterfeit medicines market in Europe is worth more than $14 billion.

The investigation, which covered 14 European countries, comes weeks after the vice president of the European Commission announced that 34 million illicit tablets had been seized on European borders in a mere two months. This follows a seven-fold increase in the quantity of illicit medicines seized at EU borders over two years.

Pfizer's new research indicated that 21 percent of those surveyed admitted to buying prescription-only medicines from illicit sources, suggesting that "millions are turning to the internet to buy medicines that should be prescribed by a healthcare professional." Not surprising, however, were the reasons why: to save time and money.

PSM board member Bryan Liang, PhD, MD, JD said the study was yet another wake-up call to the gravity of the counterfeit drug problem, particularly on the Web.

"It's impossible to ignore the growing trends in the counterfeit drug arena, especially where the Internet is concerned," said Liang. "It's imperative that we take steps to limit the sale and distribution of illicit medicines. That includes mandatory accreditation of online pharmacies through a verification program like VIPPS, and new legislation that creates substantive penalties for anyone who has a hand in the manufacturing, sale or distribution of counterfeit drugs."

Pfizer Medical Director Dr. David Gillen urged the need for greater public awareness and education on counterfeit drugs and online drug purchasing saying, "People are not only unaware of the very real dangers of counterfeit medicines, but also that they're fueling an illegal and harmful criminal market."

Of course, education and public awareness about counterfeit drugs is the cornerstone of PSM. But we can't do it alone. We'd like for you to add your voices to the effort.

You can do so by:

  • Posting the PSM's whitepapers, fact sheets and blog posts to your social networks to let others know of this public health issue
  • Joining the conversation about counterfeit drugs on PSM's Facebook and Twitter pages
  • Talking to your employer or association about becoming a member of PSM, and participating in or sponsoring a PSM event
  • Writing a letter to your elected officials calling for measures to protect Americans from counterfeit drugs

We encourage you to learn more about Pfizer's European study, and take a look at our Safe Savings handout to learn how you can save money on safe, legitimate prescription drugs. We also encourage you to sign up for the Safe Medicines email alert system, which will notify any subscriber when a government warning on counterfeits is released.

When it comes to health, it's critical that we are aware of the dangers of counterfeit drugs. As the last barriers to harm, PSM encourages patients to stay informed to protect their loved ones and themselves against the criminal elements who sell these fakes.