The lethal world of fake drugs

© Shutterstock
© Shutterstock
The pirated drugs kill thousands of people every day, thanks to counterfeiters in China and India that blend chalk, dust and dirty water to manufacture pills that are sold across the globe. Now that Internet is becoming the world clinic, these poisonous medicines can be sold at the corner drugstore.



Over the past decade, trafficking of pharmaceutical counterfeiting has become one of the illegal business that has grown in the world. The spectacular increase in seizures also indicated one growing crisis. In 2006, the European Commission reported that Customs officers had intercepted 2.7 million of drugs pirates in the borders of the EU, an increase of 384% over the previous year. This industry offers an imitation of the real product that, at first glance, is reasonable, manufactures those copies in large numbers and relies on economies of scale to obtain benefits. Products, often distributed by the same middlemen who trade with other articles of imitation. The difference is that lying drugs can cost lives.

Different point of view

For much of the last decade, drugs to improve the quality of life – for erectile dysfunction, pain relievers and anxiolytics like Valium – were the most imitated, especially in rich countries. But, in recent years, counterfeiters have become a much more dangerous false Pharmacology, with remedies for cancer, AIDS and serious heart disease. These imitations produce up to a million deaths a year, the majority in developing countries, but, increasingly, also in the rich. Some of these medications are nothing more than good imitations of drugs with trademark, hygienically manufactured with the right ingredients in the right proportions. They contravene the rights of intellectual property, of course, but they are not inherently dangerous, as long as they are perfect copies. Unfortunately, the motivation of the counterfeiters often be profit, not to manufacture reliable products. So they tend to be more perfectionist with the container, not with the content, to be able to spend your dangerous product by the genuine. The lack of quality and monitoring controls makes poor countries objectives with more possibilities of profit for these imitators. A market as the United States is more difficult to address, although currently, the anonymity and the extent of Internet offer an attractive way of evading controls. According to the who, half of all drugs purchased on the Internet does not exceed the tests to check the active ingredients. However, the greatest cause for concern is perhaps what little is being done to combat the traffic of drugs pirate, especially in developing countries. Authentic drugs are expensive, which makes the markup in the imitations even greater, and the world market of potential buyers is huge. Moreover, because it can be difficult to detect. If not a medicine to a patient effect, it surely attributes it to the severity of the disease, not to the quality of the product. In addition, policies designed to promote local production of generic can also lower quality of medicines for export controls, and that gives counterfeiters the chance to slide his games on the market. The OMS has made important statements about the need to fight against counterfeiting, but they do not want to embarrass countries who allow counterfeit drugs from entering their markets. Unfortunately, many observers believe that, until there is a large number of victims, effective actions are not taken. It would seem logical that Western pharmaceutical companies were in the frontline of the war against imitations, given their desire to protect their brands. Pfizer, for example, devoted much time and effort to try to delete copies of Viagra. But pursue counterfeiters in too public a way – or with too much energy – can be a double-edged sword. In the end, if people believe that a drug is the subject of many imitations, the sales of the product can lose out. As a result, many large pharmaceutical companies have resisted to pursue falsifications, especially distributed in developing countries.


Humanitarian groups, desperate to get drugs that save the life to the poor, are facing a difficult choice: expensive but safe products that may become less patients, or cheaper but which may not be effective. Free trade zones and Internet sales to counterfeiters provide more opportunities of making circular and sell their items, by which the fight against imitations, it is much more difficult if there is no concerted and coordinated international efforts. Fortunately, that has not prevented a few brave have taken up the challenge. But the progress that both have cost them can come down very easily.