The size and scope of the international trade in counterfeit and intentionally adulterated medicines is almost unimaginable.
According to estimates compiled by the World Health Organization, approximately one per cent of the medicines available in the US and other industrialized countries may be counterfeit or substandard. That ratio of fake drugs rises to 10% in the global marketplace; it jumps to 30% in some parts of Asia, Africa and Latin America; and tops 50% of medicines purchased from some Internet sites.
Those percentages reflect the wide range of risks for consumers around the world. Are your chances of getting a fake medicine one in 100? One in 10? One in three? Or one in two? Much of that depends on what you are seeking and where you are located, but the global movement of people and products means the risk can swing widely.
The Human Toll of Bad Medicine
Still, the figures that dominate the discussion about counterfeit drugs can cause us to lose sight of the human toll it claims. The International Policy Network, a British think-tank, estimates that 700,000 people die every year because they take fake malaria and tuberculosis medicines – the equivalent of the population of Fort Worth, Texas; Athens, Greece; or Fuji, Japan.
But in those communities, and many others in the U.S., Europe, Japan and other industrialized nations, the safety and security of our medicines has been so strong, for so long, we can find it difficult to grasp that the simple act of purchasing a product can be a life-or-death decision for many people around the world.
A Global Movement is Born
In the fall of 2013, a growing list of international healthcare groups, research institutes, foundations, non-profit groups and private sector organizations began working together on an initiative called “Fight the Fakes.”
The goal of the initiative is to raise awareness about the dangers of fake medicines – counterfeit and substandard products that hold out the promise of treating disease and improving health, but which may cruelly generate the opposite result, compounding illnesses or claiming lives.
USP became a founding member of this initiative because we are an organization dedicated to improving global health through public standards and related programs aimed at ensuring the quality, safety, and benefit of medicines (and foods).
Among the challenges we face today are raw medicinal ingredients and finished drug products circling the globe before they reach the hands of patients and consumers. The reality is, fake medicines are a universal threat and require collaboration to stem the tide.
Citizens in countries where the risk is highest face the daily spectre of further illness, disability or death, while at the same time those poor quality medicines can fuel drug-resistance diseases, which have no regard for geographic boundaries or economic resources.
Spreading the Word Against Fakes
The goal of Fight the Fakes is to increase public awareness and give a voice to those who have been personally impacted - sharing their stories as we work to bring an end to this public health threat. It seeks to build a global movement of organizations and individuals who will shine light on the negative impact of fake medicines and work together to combat the problem.
Now 25 partners strong, Fight the Fakes members represent a wide spectrum of organizations, including the Alliance for Safe Online Pharmacies (ASOP), Alliance for Safe Online Pharmacy in the EU (ASOP EU), Center for Safe Internet Pharmacies (CSIP), European Association of Pharmaceutical Wholesalers (GIRP), Generic Pharmaceutical Association (GPhA), International Federation of Pharmaceutical Wholesalers (IFPW), International Pharmaceutical Students Federation (IPSF), Mobilium, Partnership for Safe Medicines (PSM), PSM India and the Pharmaceutical Security Institute (PSI).
In addition to USP, other standing partners in Fight the Fakes include the Dutch Malaria Foundation, Fondation Chirac, Global Pharma Health Fund (GPHF), International Council of Nurses (ICN), International Federation for Pharmaceutical Manufacturers and Associations (IFPMA), International Institute of Research Against Counterfeit Medicines (IRACM), Malaria Consortium, Medicines for Malaria Venture (MMV), NCD Alliance, Roll Back Malaria Partnership (RBM), Sproxil, World Heart Federation (WHF) and World Medical Association (WMA).
Join the Fight
To learn more about this issue, visit the Fight the Fakes website, along with the USP section of that site. You can also join the Twitter conversation, at #fakemeds or @FightTheFakes, to lend your voice to the dedicated organizations and individuals around the world who are working to combat this problem.