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Fabulously Fatal Fakes

Tonight’s Dateline re-aired a feature called the “Bitter Pill” that discussed the problem of counterfeit prescription drugs. The problem of counterfeit drugs is a growing worldwide concern. It is well known that the counterfeit products enter the chain of distribution at varying points between the manufacturer and the pharmacy, with millions of dollars exchanging hands. Of course a disturbing revelation was the even the “experts,” including pharmacists were often unable to identify a real or counterfeit pill without chemical analysis.

In one respect, if you missed the show, you should read the entire article. However, I wonder about this “investigative undercover report” since the problem of counterfeit pharmaceutical products is not a new one. Even the Food and Drug Administration recognized the problem back in 2003 and created its on-going Counterfeit Drug Task Force.

The US based Centre for Medicines in the Public Interest predicts that counterfeit drug sales will reach US$ 75 billion globally in 2010, an increase of more than 90% from 2005.

What drugs are involved? The list goes on beyond these, but some of the more popular products include: Lipitor, Viagra, Vaniqa, Crestor, Plavix, Procrit, Epogen, Tamiflu and others.

One of the problems is that the “industry” is still in a state of denial (my opinion). Among the issues discussed in the Dateline show was the new use of RFID chips to identify the counterfeits. This was discussed in a previous post, RFID Myths and Counterfeit Pharmaceuticals. While it is important that large companies like Perdue Pharma and Pfizer are adopting the electronic pedigree, is it really the "best" way to identify counterfeits (is the FDA mandating the use of RFIDs or simply "strongly suggesting" the use of these chips?), or is this a false sense of security when some other forms of RFID have been shown to be compromised?

Getting the word out about the problem of counterfeit pharmaceutical products, as Dateline did, is very important. The question of how to combat the problem however, remains.



Whenever a product is highly or overly priced, counterfeiters will abound; whether its watches, handbags, sunglasses and yes even ethical drugs. The other side of this coin is that some of the fakes are of high quality----the trick is being able to tell the good from the bad or to know your source.

Barry, what you say is true to a point, but counterfeiting pervades all types of products and price ranges. Just today we heard about a factory in India manufacturing counterfeit generic drugs, so counterfeiting does not effect just the Lipitor or Viagra brands.

You can also deal with a counterfeit tax stamp on a pack of cigarettes, to a counterfeit bottle of perfume, or a bottle of Chivas Regal, or a ticket to an NFL game. Virtually anything of value, and anything with a known brand name (see Nike or Polo shirts) will be counterfeited. I've seen reports of counterfeit automotive brake pads, fake power supplies, and faulty replacement parts for airplanes. The Russians have reported not only instances of counterfeit Vodka, but also counterfeit Kalishnikovs.

The issue becomes alot broader than "simply" hurting people. Its pretty well known that terrorist groups like Hamas and al Qaeda are helping to finance their activities with counterfeit products. The economic impact of counterfeiting is into the billions of dollars. The human cost is incalculable.