The fastest growing problem for the pharmaceutical industry is not defective drugs made by U.S. companies, but rather counterfeit medicine made abroad, according to a recent report in the Wall Street Journal. Fake drugs are highly dangerous to consumers because they typically contain random ingredients that are ineffective in treating a patient's medical condition and are frequently poisonous.
Counterfeit lifestyle drugs such as Viagra continue to be the most commonly faked drugs on the market, but the number of fake cancer drugs has skyrocketed in recent years. This is because Viagra retails for only about $15 per pill whereas a 400-milligram vial of the cancer drug Avastin can cost upwards of $2,400.
An industry group that tracks counterfeit drugs says that cancer drugs were not commonly counterfeited five years ago, but were the eighth most commonly faked drugs in 2011.
Avastin was at the heart of a scandal this past summer involving CanadaDrugs.com, an online pharmacy that sells drugs to U.S. consumers seeking to avoid high American drug prices. The company grew at a rapid pace and was found to have sold at least two batches of counterfeit Avastin to American doctors. Investigators believe that the drugs were trafficked through Turkey and the U.K. before landing in the U.S.
"The Avastin case was a watershed moment for law enforcement to recognize that this is not a problem that can be restricted to one part of the world," an Interpol spokesman told the Wall Street Journal. "It let the U.S. know it's not immune to counterfeit drugs."
Beforehand, counterfeit drugs were widely viewed as a problem in China and the Middle East, not Europe and North America.
CanadaDrugs executives would not give statements concerning the counterfeit drugs, but employees of the company have insisted that they were unaware that the drugs were faked. The Wall Street Journal reports that Avastin is only a small part of the cancer drug counterfeiting market. Last year, Chinese officials raided a facility and found 23 million tablets of the breast-cancer drug tamoxifen. In 2010, Malta officials seized counterfeit leukemia medicine, but it is unclear where those pharmaceuticals were shipped from.
Chinese patients continue to be most at risk for counterfeit drugs, although law enforcement officials in that country have stepped up their enforcement efforts in attempt to reduce the number of yearly patient injuries and deaths from fake drugs.
Source: Wall Street Journal, "Counterfeit Cancer Medicines Multiply," Jeanne Whalen, Dec. 31, 2012