FAUX DRUGS: CAN THEY BE STOPPED?

July 11, 2005

The FDA and the pharmaceutical industry step up their anticounterfeiting initiatives.

Even though some progress has been made in thwarting counterfeit operations, what's keeping the feds and big pharma executives up at night is a new generation of charlatans aided and abetted by the Internet. These cyber-counterfeiters have discovered that peddling illegal drugs is not only extremely lucrative but also relatively easy to do.

Jeffrey Steinberg, a partner in business risk services at Ernst & Young in New York, said that many of the drugs coming in from Canada, for example, are legitimate products that have been diverted. "What's worrisome is that no one knows for sure where some of the Internet pharmacies are getting their products," he said. According to federal law enforcement officials, illegal drug cartels are operating in Asia, the Caribbean, India, and South America. Steinberg noted that the counterfeiters' level of sophistication is astonishing, and, in some cases, it's hard to distinguish the real product from the ersatz ones without a chemical analysis.

Fear mongering The topic of counterfeiting has been dragged into the political skirmish over drug importation. While there is no doubt that counterfeiting exists and that some imported drugs are fraudulent, critics charge that big pharma engages in scare tactics that link imported drugs to counterfeiting and drug safety. Recently, the Pharmaceutical Research & Manufacturers of America launched an on-line research clearinghouse where consumers can learn from "experts" about the dangers of importing medicines.

One Canadian Internet-based pharmacy intermediary, DoctorSolve, dismisses the anti-importation campaign. The company claims that tying imported drugs to counterfeiting is an attempt by the U.S. pharmaceutical industry to scare consumers into buying products from American drugmakers.