Fake drugs in market 'putting lives at risk'

DUBAI - Drug counterfeiting is putting lives at risk in the region, according to pharmaceutical companies. Experts warn that the phenomenon is increasing in the Middle East.

By A Staff Reporter

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Published: Fri 20 Aug 2004, 10:40 AM

Last updated: Thu 2 Apr 2015, 1:17 PM

In the past, drug counterfeiting received relatively little attention because it was viewed as a problem affecting mainly the Indian and Chinese markets. The problem has now spread around the world and is steadily impacting the lives of people in the Middle East.

Drug counterfeiting ranges from the illegal use of copyrighted commercial drugs, up to the manufacture of fake drugs. The practice has spread in recent months, partly because of increased demand for products like male potency medication.

Dr Ahmed El Hakim, health policy and external affairs director for Pfizer Pharmaceuticals in the Middle East, said: "The health consequences of counterfeit medicines, many produced in unsanitary conditions with substandard or dangerous chemical components, are very real and often life threatening. They can also lead to drug resistance and can cause loss of trust between patients, doctors, pharmacists and health-care workers."

Executives at Pfizer congratulated the authorities the UAE and Saudi Arabia on the moves they have made to combat the problem, and have urged the general public to be more aware of the dangers of fake drugs.

Both the medical industry and the public have been hard-hit by the practice, as counterfeiters tend to target common prescription drugs such as antibiotics and painkillers.

In some instances, the fake drugs contain baking soda or talcum powder, though sometimes they contain more sinister ingredients such as anti-freeze. In the case of drugs that have an effect on the heart or blood pressure medications, the results can prove fatal. There have even been cases of vials of general anaesthetic being filled with distilled water or alcohol, according to the pharmaceutical giant.

Incidents of the distribution of unsafe pharmaceutical products around the world are increasing. There have been many reports involving patients who have unwittingly received and taken counterfeit medicines. Packaging is often slick and convincing as counterfeiters copy bar codes, blister packs and even holograms.

According to Pfizer, patients tend to take for granted that the prescription medicines they buy are safe and effective. In some countries, reliable pharmaceutical distribution systems ensure a high degree of patient safety, and yet incidents of counterfeiting have increased four fold in recent years.

Various factors have enabled criminal counterfeiting activity to grow; these include the growing involvement in the drug supply chain of under-regulated wholesalers and repackagers, the proliferation of "internet pharmacies", and the movement of imported medicines around the globe.

"Counterfeiting must be eliminated, but as long as there is high demand for pharmaceuticals there will be dishonest people manufacturing and selling fake drugs, putting the lives of people at risk," concluded Dr Ahmed El Hakim.


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