ARE YOUR MEDICINES CURING OR KILLING YOU?
by Chito Junia
If your pocket is hurting because of the rising cost of your maintenance medicines and health supplements and thinking of buying the cheaper brands on line or small pharmacies, better be sure that you’re not buying fake drugs laced with powdered bricks.
According to 2012 World Health Organization (WHO) figures, the black market trade of counterfeit pharmaceutical drugs is a US$431 billion dollar annual industry, with most of the counterfeit drugs originating from India and China. In 2014, the report further said, 42 percent of all the pharmaceutical crime arrests were reported from Asia, with Latin America coming second with less than half that figure at 19 percent.
These figures show the alarming rate at which the counterfeit drug industry is rapidly growing in Asia, especially with the rise of online purchasing options and multi-level marketing operations, allowing the global promotion of such counterfeit drugs. The illicit drug trade costs the legitimate drug business and governments billions of US dollars in lost revenues. In 2004, according to WHO reports, about US$ 32 billion was lost due to the illicit trade of drugs. This went up to US$ 40 billion in 2006 and further up to US$ 75 billion in 2010.
The Danger to Human Life
The threat of the counterfeit drug trade to human life is very real. And among the drugs mostly abused by counterfeiters are antibiotics. Taking counterfeit antibiotics which may not contain the exact amount of ingredient to stop an infection, if not none at all, may even cause more risk as this could make the infection even more resistant to drugs. This form of antimicrobial resistance is very dangerous, especially in the case of contagious diseases as this could allow the disease to develop a stronger strain that is immune to medicines, endangering not only the patient but the community around him as well.
Almost all kinds of drugs are now being faked. From drugs to cure diabetes, seizure disorders, heart conditions and even lifestyle drugs to help enhance sex life, without your knowing it, you could be taking these drugs now.
The threat of counterfeit drugs to human life is expressed even more with CNN reports that in Pakistan, some counterfeit drugs were found to contain ingredients from red brick dust, with some of them even found to contain traces of rat poison.
Severity of the Problem
The severity of the counterfeit drug problem widely varies between the demography of different countries. According to a WHO report, in 2005 it ranged from 1% in developed countries up to 50 percent in less developed nations, especially in impoverished regions of the world where genuine drugs are too expensive for the general population.
It is fairly evident that the counterfeit drug trade flourishes in countries where medicinal drugs are relatively scarce and/or prices are relatively high. According to the World Health Organization, about 2 billion people worldwide have limited access to essential drugs, which is mostly attributed to poverty, high cost of drugs and government corruption. And coupled with lax or poor enforcement of pharmaceutical laws and rules, the situation could only turn from bad to worse.
It is, therefore, necessary for governments to enact more stringent set of laws that provide harsher punishment to those involved in the illicit trade of drugs. In the Philippines for instance, people are more likely to get a longer jail term and larger fines for trying to counterfeit a movie than counterfeiting a pharmaceutical drug. Under Republic Act 7394 or the Consumer Act of the Philippines, the penalties for the manufacture, distribution or sale of mislabeled or counterfeit drug allows only up to 5 years imprisonment and/or a fine of up to PhP10,000.00, a virtual slap on the wrist, compared to the penalties for pirating an audio visual material.
Under R.A. 10088 or the Philippine Anti- Camcording Act, a person found guilty of the illegal production or distribution of a pirated movie shall be subjected to a fine of no less than PhP50,000.00 but not exceeding PhP750,000.00 and imprisonment from 6 months and one day or up to 6 years and one day. Compared to that law, however, R.A.8203 or the Special Law on Counterfeit Drugs, a person involved in the counterfeit drug trade only faces an administrative sanction of at least PhP100,000.00 and no more than PhP500,00.00 in fines, revocation of business license and confiscation of equipment.
The counterfeit drug trade is flourishing globally because of the lure of big profits. Its projected quick and big profits could be comparable to that of the narcotics trade, but its penalties are not as stringent as those caught dealing with narcotics.
Combating Illicit Drug Trade
A more aggressive education program on the dangers of counterfeit drugs could be a vital step towards helping eradicate or at least, minimize the problem on fake drugs. A stronger cooperation and coordination among health workers, consumers and concerned government agencies could also help address the growing concerns on the proliferation of counterfeit drugs in the market.
Among the reasons why drugs in certain countries are high like the Philippines, are the duties and taxes imposed on its legitimate drug importations. If only taxes and duties on imported drugs or raw materials for the production of therapeutic drugs are reduced, if not eliminated, that would make drug prices affordable, eventually making the counterfeit drug trade a non-viable venture.