Drug counterfeiting has reached a level that threatens to damage the entire medical system and pharmaceutical industry. Reuters recently reported that counterfeiting drugs are now $200 billion a year global business. The condition is more severe in developing countries like India where networks of distributors and laboratories making counterfeit drugs are strong. In the past few months the Food and Drug Administration of India conducted several raids and apprehended numerous people involved in fake drug trafficking. Even in the cities like Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore and Chennai pharmacists are selling fraudulently mislabeled and substandard drugs without any fear. The drugs were often found to be contaminated with paints, chalk powder and other impurities. Some drugs were degraded because of poor storage or they were repackaged after expiry. Several supposedly life saving drugs and antibiotics were without active ingredients.
According to Dr. Roger Bate, Legatum Fellow in Global Prosperity, “Since drugs made in India are sold around the world, the country's substandard drug trade represents a grave public health threat that extends far beyond the subcontinent. Unless serious steps are taken to improve the quality of the Indian drug supply, the global spread of unsafe pharmaceuticals will persist.”
The Indian pharmaceutical industry is about $10 billion and some sources estimate that 10% of it is producing sub-standard drugs. Thousands of people die every year after consuming counterfeit or substandard drugs. In parts of Africa, Asia and Latin America it is estimated that 30% of all medicines imported from India and China are substandard. Fake drugs are a real threat to industry as well and are putting the goodwill of physicians and pharmaceutical companies at stake.
To stem the tide of counterfeit drugs concrete steps need to be taken at every level from manufacturers to distributors to regulatory authorities. The current anti-counterfeiting legislation in India has not stopped drug offenses. Penalties for making and selling fake drug are negligible compared to the profits. Huge profits drive more and more people to sell counterfeit drugs. Laws and regulations for selling narcotics like opium and cocaine are more severe thus encouraging criminals to manufacture counterfeit drugs rather than trade in narcotics.
Regulatory authorities need to be even more attentive. Drug inspectors need to be more vigilant in carrying out their duties. Customers can help too and should be aware of new technologies that are in use to detect fake drugs.