As my colleague Thomas Kubic recently noted, most supporters of drug importation have a faulty assumption that developed countries like Canada, Australia, Japan and the 27 members of the European Union (E.U.) are insulated from the global threat of counterfeit drugs. In the coming weeks, we will take a closer look at some of these so-called “safe” countries and illustrate why there is no such thing as a “safe” country when it comes to drug importation.
After nearly two years under investigation, the final sentence for running an international multi-million pound counterfeit drug operation was issued in the United Kingdom. The first four convictions were made in September 2007 and on July 6, the final member of the operation received a 12 month sentence, suspended for two years, for masterminding an industrial scale conspiracy of supplying counterfeit drugs between 2002 and 2005. In total, the seven convicted members of this international counterfeit drug ring received a combined 17.5 years imprisonment—an average of 2.5 years for each participant—for their part in the U.K. distribution arm of a global ring operating from China, India and Pakistan, extending to the Caribbean and the United States.
It’s happening all the time. Nearly every day, there are new reports of counterfeit drugs flooding the world’s prescription drug market. Just last week, the Partnership for Safe Medicines posted a link about how counterfeit drugs are hastening drug-resistant strains of malaria. And the week before, we shared the news reports out of the United Kingdom about a raid on an Irish counterfeit drug distribution operation and the MHRA’s recall due to possible counterfeit inhalers found in the U.K. supply system.
Earlier this month, the Partnership for Safe Medicines (PSM) released the L.E.A.D.E.R.’s Guide for Pharmacists to encourage pharmacists to take an active role in protecting the supply chain from counterfeit drugs. This effort is one of many to help curb the distribution of harmful and potentially deadly counterfeit drugs. Similarly, the Royal Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain (RPSGB), Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) and the Dispensing Doctor’s Association (DDA) issued Counterfeit medicines: Guidance for pharmacists, explaining the background of counterfeit drugs, their production and distribution to pharmacists.
In the past two weeks, the Partnership for Safe Medicines issued two SafeMeds Alerts about counterfeit insulin pen needles and herbal medication adulterated with dangerously high levels of undeclared pharmaceuticals in the United Kingdom. It is tempting to disregard these alerts since the drugs were found in England, not the United States. But in today’s global environment, we are all at risk when these unsafe products move through the drug supply chain undetected.