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Lancet: Combating Counterfeit Drugs

LONDON, May 8, 2008-This week’s lead Editorial in The Lancet discusses the growing problem of counterfeit drugs, highlighting a possible counterfeiting case in America in which a contaminant found in batches of heparin is believed to have killed at least 81 patients.

The Editorial says that the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has seen an 800% increase in the number of new counterfeit cases between 2000 and 2006. In developing countries, where drug regulatory systems can be weak or non-existent, around 10–30% of medicines might be counterfeit. Antimalarials have been a particular target for counterfeiters, and fakes have flooded the market in many Asian countries.

WHO, countries and the pharmaceutical industry all have their part to play in the fight against counterfeit drugs. The Editorial says: "According to WHO, only 20% of its member states have well-developed drug regulatory systems, and around 30% have no or weak drug regulation... Drug authorities also need to work effectively with customs, the police, scientists, health workers, WHO, and INTERPOL. This type of collaborative approach has proved successful in tackling counterfeit antimalarials in southeast Asia. The pharmaceutical industry should be legally required to report suspected cases of counterfeiting to the relevant national drug authority—a practice which is currently voluntary. Companies must also be encouraged to lower the prices of their products in developing countries to reduce the economic incentive for counterfeiters."

It concludes: "There is no magic bullet to deal with counterfeit medicines. Countries need to adopt multipronged, multidisciplinary approaches to combat the problem. WHO and donor countries should provide support to developing nations to strengthen their drug regulatory systems. But individual governmental commitment to this goal is essential. Without it, public safety will continue to be compromised."

The Lancet Press Office. T) +44 (0) 20 7424 4949

Posted: May 2008