'60 Minutes' examines counterfeit drug problem

Criminals take advantage of low-risk/high-reward economics of trade

NEW YORK — "Fake drugs are a big threat and an exploding threat," Kumar Kibble, deputy director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, told the news program "60 Minutes" in a segment that appeared Sunday night.

Kibble, who tracks counterfeit drugs from their source in clandestine labs around the world to the United States, where they're typically sold online through rogue pharmacy sites, told "60 Minutes" that increasingly, traditional criminal groups, including many once involved in illegal drug trafficking, are shifting operations to take advantage of the low-risk/high-reward economics of the counterfeit drug trade — a $75 billion-a-year industry, according to estimates.

The segment opened with an early morning raid on a Peruvian counterfeit pill operation run out of an indoor market and a shabby one-room, makeshift lab, where knock-off Pfizer products were being crudely manufactured. Peruvian law enforcement was tipped off about the operation by Pfizer's John Clark, who heads the company's global security team, which is comprised of former Federal Bureau of Investigation, Homeland Security and Drug Enforcement Administration agents. The group works with local law enforcement to identify and prosecute international drug counterfeiters.

Timing of the segment was impeccable, as the retail pharmacy industry gathered for the annual National Association of Chain Drug Stores Supply Chain and Logistics Conference this week, March 13 to 15, in San Diego. Shutting down the flow of counterfeit drugs into the United States and preserving the integrity of the nation's drug supply system has long been a focus of pharmacy industry leaders, and the conference this year featured important educational sessions focused on the topic, as well as demonstrations of new technologies and information system-based solutions aimed at protecting the supply chain.

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