Report: Online Sales of Counterfeit Drugs Causing ‘Global Health Crisis’

New research released this week indicates that counterfeit drug sales over the Internet are threatening to cause a major, global crisis, one that may harm the health of all.

The study is by the Irish Patients’ Association, based in Dublin, Ireland, and examines the worldwide trend toward the sale and purchase of prescription and non-prescription drugs over the Internet.

According to the study, prescription medicines commonly sold online, like Viagra, could be counterfeit, and, consequently, offer little or no redeeming benefit for an ailing person. In some instances, the fakes may pose a major danger to public health, the study said.

Global Crisis

The report, “Counterfeit Drugs: Towards an Irish Response to a Global Crisis,” was produced for the IPA by Dublin City University. It warns that patients anywhere “can die from one click of your mouse, when you purchase medicines from unregulated Internet drug stores.”

Authored by Dr. Donal P. O’Mathuna and Dr. Adam McAuley of Dublin City University, the study was funded by the Irish government’s department of health and children.

Globally, the report states, the counterfeit drugs industry is now generating US$50 million in annual sales, and the public is only vaguely acquainted with the dangers of online drug purchases.

Some patients “have died or had little or no benefit from their medicine and such financial hemorrhaging deprives research pharmaceutical companies of cash to invest in new medicines,” Stephen McMahon, chairman of the IPA, said.

According to McMahon, Ireland and other nations have benefited greatly from the presence of a legitimate pharmaceutical industry, with Ireland itself emerging recently as one of the world’s largest exporters of drugs. What is more, among the world’s top selling drugs, six out of 10 are produced in Ireland, including Viagra and Lipitor, two of the most commonly counterfeited prescription drugs.

Undermining Effect

Authentic pharmaceuticals “contribute to both an individual’s health and the economy. Counterfeit drugs can seriously undermine both of these areas,” said the IPA. “Tackling counterfeit drugs requires many different strategies.”

The report makes a number of recommendations on this issue, including the following:

  • New laws that directly address counterfeit drugs should be created, ensuring that civil and criminal penalties are put in place for those who partake in the counterfeit drug trade.
  • Public health officials should develop clear mechanisms that enable healthcare professionals and the public to report drugs they suspect are counterfeit to the proper authorities.
  • A media campaign should be launched to bring accurate information on counterfeit drugs to the public’s attention.

The study said research projects should investigate whether the postal service and other package carriers are being used to deliver counterfeit drugs by online fiends, and to what extent.

Moreover, the study said, research should be conducted into the extent which consumers use the Internet to obtain all forms of medicines, including prescription and non-prescription drugs. Initiatives should also evaluate the quality of all types of medicinal products available through the Internet. Governments should also encourage and actively engage in the development of an “international framework convention” on counterfeit drugs through the World Health Organization (WHO), an affiliate of the United Nations.

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