A spike in counterfeit and low-quality medications has clinicians around the world requesting an international initiative to fight against these drugs, which are estimated to kill hundreds of thousands of patients annually. A projected 250,000 children alone die each year as a result of fraudulent medicines for malaria and pneumonia, likely due to poor vaccines and antibiotics. Many of the deaths related to counterfeit drugs are in countries with a high demand for therapies and a low enforcement of quality control and oversight, leaving the space open for criminal organizations to enter the market. If caught, the penalties are light, with offenders having to pay fines or serve short jail sentences.
A large array of drugs that have been tested have been proven to be ineffective or downright fake, including antibiotics, antimalarials, and cardiovascular and cancer medicines. Some counterfeit medicines that were tested were found to contain components such as printer ink, paint and arsenic. The predominant drugs on the counterfeit market are largely lifestyle drugs, such as Viagra. These fake medicines either do not contain the effective ingredients, do not dissolve properly when taken, have been sold past their expiration date or have degraded due to improper storage conditions. Experts estimate that up to 10% of drugs in low- and middle-class countries are either poor quality or completely fraudulent, and have cost the local economies anywhere between $10–$200 billion each year.
Because of the rise in fake medicines, doctors have labeled this a public health emergency affecting people internationally. For example, through its testing efforts, Pfizer found 95 counterfeit products in 113 countries last year, up from 29 fake drugs in 75 countries in 2008, an over 200% increase. Doctors have made recommendations to address the issue, including enhancing support to the World Health Organization’s drug surveillance program, and establishing a global treaty on drug quality that would allow for monitoring of fraudulent drug manufacturing and the extradition of suspects for trial in countries they are targeting.
Source: The Guardian