What are the reasons behind this phenomenon? What has caused the emergence of falsified medical products?
To prevent and battle this scourge effectively, we need to understand the factors at play that encouraged its emergence. Though they vary according to global regions and/or the economic and social situations of each population, there are common “general causes” behind the counterfeiting of medical products across the different countries.
Why are falsified or counterfeit medical products sold? Because there are people ready to buy them! It’s the law of supply and demand.
- Why buy medicine that could be falsified?
– Lack of information: To avoid buying falsified products, we need to be informed! Whether it is a lack of schooling or a lack of access to information, many patients ignore the existence of falsified medicines and/or are ill informed concerning the risks they are taking by consuming falsified medical products: failure of the prescribed treatment, unwanted effects… Furthermore, the patient can rarely check the quality or source of the medical products they purchase. If the medical products have not been appropriately tested, the patient is at the mercy of unscrupulous vendors.
– Inventory shortage: In certain countries, it is difficult to obtain the correct medication legally. Prolonged inventory shortages (which can sometimes be permanent, notably in poorer countries with unorganized and fragile health systems) can turn patients towards alternative supply chains that are not tested and secure.
– Corruption: Corruption is a major factor in the emergence of counterfeit products in the distribution channel.
– No health coverage: Many countries do not have sufficient health coverage and patients do not always have the means to pay for legal medical products.
– Internet: Finally, the Internet is a major vector of falsified medicines and is often considered a rapid and inexpensive solution to obtain medication. It also bypasses the need for prescriptions!
- Why are these products sold?
First, because it is an extremely lucrative activity! The medical market is enormous and constantly growing, especially with the ageing of populations in economically developed countries. With derisory production costs (a bit of flour is sufficient to produce a falsified pill!), falsified medicines represent an easy source of gain for criminals. This is even truer in that with the internet, the risks of being arrested are minimal and current regulatory, legislative and repressive systems are ill adapted or insufficient. Sanctions are ineffectual and inappropriate for the seriousness of the crime, there is a lack of legislation criminalizing the production of counterfeit medications, an absence of controls concerning the distribution and marketing channels for medicines, a lack of information or an underestimation of the amplitude of the problem (amount of falsified medical products circulating, the risks for Public Health…), little or no cooperation between the different parties involved (customs, police force, legal authorities, the industry, and health professionals)…
These different elements constitute the foundations of the development and spread of counterfeit medical products in countries around the world.
Source: “Contrefaçon de produits médicaux et infractions similaires” European Council