NEW YORK — Last year, U.S. Customs and Border Protection seized $5.6 million worth of illegal pharmaceutical products, a 170% increase over 2005. Meanwhile, global sales of counterfeit medicines were estimated to be more than $75 billion last year, 90% more than in 2005.
In response, Pfizer and the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy announced Thursday the launch of an effort to educate patients on how to safely buy medicines online and about the risks of counterfeit drugs.
"Authentic prescription medicines are manufactured with pure ingredients in clean facilities, under a highly regulated, quality-controlled process, but counterfeit medicines are often produced in unsanitary conditions by people without any medical or scientific background," Pfizer senior director of global security for the Americas region Patrick Ford said. "Law-enforcement officials have found fake medicines being made in bathrooms and outdoors in the vicinity of farm animals."
Counterfeit medicines can be extremely dangerous and have been found to contain substances, such as rat poison and lead paint, as well as not having the correct, Food and Drug Administration-approved amount of active pharmaceutical ingredient. Counterfeits of all types of drugs, branded and generic, are known to exist, with Pfizer's erectile dysfunction drug Viagra (sildenafil citrate) being a particularly popular target.
"Counterfeiters who sell fake medicines online prey on ingrained online buying behavior, in which consumers disregard warnings signs and prioritize price and convenience," NABP executive director Carmen Catizone said. "As a result, counterfeiters sell fake medicines through deceptive practices and typically don't insist that patients provide a valid prescription, which is required by law."
The FDA also announced Thursday that it completed the International Internet Week of Action, also known as Operation Pangea IV, a cooperative effort with other regulatory and international partners aimed at combatting counterfeit and other illegal drugs and devices on the Internet. The IIWA's goal was to raise public awareness of the dangers of buying drugs and devices on the Internet illegally, identify their producers and distributors and target them with civil and criminal action, seizing the products and removing them from the supply chain. Nearly 1,000 websites illegally selling drugs to U.S. consumers were targeted, the FDA said.
"The FDA will continue to work closely with our domestic and international law enforcement and regulatory partners to protect consumers from unapproved and potentially harmful products sold over the Internet," FDA associate commissioner for regulatory affairs Dara Corrigan said. "We will continue to aggressively pursue those who sell products which may pose a significant risk to consumer health."