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’60 Minutes’ tackles counterfeits

BY Rob Eder

Sugar and chalk. That’s what Pfizer researchers found in a pill that was supposed to be Cytotec, but was, in fact, a crude knockoff seized from a counterfeit drug lab in Peru.

The “60 Minutes” segment that aired March 13 came as no surprise to Drug Store News, which has argued for many years that drug counterfeiting is a key reason lawmakers need to forget the reoccurring pipe dream that rogue Internet sites and drug reimportation are legitimate solutions to rising healthcare costs. They are not. At best, it creates bogus loopholes that allow people to sidestep the real challenge, which is about realigning incentives to make patients smarter healthcare consumers and to make providers more focused on outcomes than services. And at worst, it can kill you.

Thousands of suspicious packages containing possible counterfeit drugs are seized by Customs agents in U.S. postal facilities every day. According to estimates, 36 million Americans bought drugs from unlicensed Internet pharmacy sites last year.

What was surprising to DSN, however, was the number of negative comments “60 Minutes” received on its website from cynical viewers who believed the highly regarded news program had sold out.

“Tonight’s show … hit a nadir in the appalling Pfizer infomercial masquerading as news,” one viewer noted on the “60 Minutes” website.

“‘60 Minutes’ owes its longtime viewers a sincere and public apology as part of an admission that this ‘report’ was an embarrassing abuse of its storied pulpit — a shameless insult to journalism itself,” posted another user.

This speaks to a much larger problem in America: the flawed sense of entitlement that threatens to undermine this country on a number of levels. We want to buy homes we can’t afford. We want national security and top-notch education that will allow our children to compete with the rest of the world, but we don’t necessarily want to pay for it. We want $4 generics and cheap drugs from the Internet, and we expect the Food and Drug Administration and Pharma to be able to guarantee the safety of those products.

The reality is that you can’t pay for the kind of operation companies like Pfizer have to fund to ensure the safety of its products and help guard the integrity of the U.S. drug supply chain on margins from $4 products. The “60 Minutes” segment opened with an early morning raid on a Peruvian counterfeit pill operation run out of a shabby, one-room, makeshift lab, where knockoff Pfizer products were being crudely manufactured.

Peruvian law enforcement agencies were tipped off about the operation by Pfizer’s John Clark, who heads the company’s global security team, which is comprised of former FBI, Homeland Security and Drug Enforcement Administration agents. The group works with local law enforcement to identify and prosecute international drug counterfeiters. 

The reality is that the FDA doesn’t have the resources to do it either. FDA commissioner Margaret Hamburg told “60 Minutes” that the United States still has not identified the source of the contaminated ingredient that likely killed dozens of heparin users in 2008. The reality is that today in 2011, the counterfeit drug business is a $75 billion-a-year-and-growing, underground industry with no signs of slowing down because drug traffickers realize there is a lot more return on investment in imitation prescription pills than, say, cocaine or heroin. The reality is that some criminal in some disgusting hovel anywhere in the world can knock off a pill for about 40 cents and sell it for $20, and it’s up to drug makers like Pfizer to spend the money to catch them before you die from taking a pill made of sugar and chalk.

Granted, it was a lot of information to cover in a 15-minute segment, and their producers may have confused the issue a bit — there are myriad companies that produce perfectly safe and efficacious medicines that operate in foreign countries.

But DSN knows a few things about good journalism, and “60 Minutes” deserves credit for making millions of Americans face the cold hard truth about drug counterfeiting.

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Q&A: Men behind Marketplace — Jim Whitman and Roy McGrath, NACDS

BY DSN STAFF

The 2011 NACDS Marketplace Conference will take place in Boston, June 25 to 28. More than 230 retail companies — representing more than $500 billion in annual buying power — and more than 90% of the consumer packaged goods industry is expected to attend. To learn more, Drug Store News talked with NACDS SVP member programs and services Jim Whitman and NACDS director of conference exhibits and registration Roy McGrath.

DSN: Why is Marketplace more important than ever? What’s new this year?

Jim Whitman: The 2011 NACDS Marketplace Conference is taking place at a very critical time. Within the retail sector — specifically within our industry — there is a greater emphasis on health and wellness. Consumers are looking for products that will improve their overall wellness and help them live healthier lifestyles. In addition, as global events continue to pose financial challenges, retailers are looking at ways to help their consumers get the most value out of their shopping experiences. The Marketplace Conference will reflect changes in how consumers are seeking to live well and shop smarter, and will offer opportunities to help retailers and suppliers continue to meet these consumer needs and continue to thrive in their businesses.

[As for what’s new,] NACDS strives to meet the needs of retailers and suppliers, so we strategize year-round to truly reflect those needs in this conference. New participants and new exhibitors often provide a sense of upcoming trends for the industry. This is helpful for retailers who may want to move into a new category or venture, or even for those who have already incorporated it and want to expand their presence. One example is convenience food. Regardless of the category or concept, one of the great things about the NACDS Marketplace Conference is that every year, it offers something fresh and relative for retailers and suppliers.

DSN: How has Meet the Market evolved over the years?

Whitman: Enabling small and medium-sized suppliers to have a jump-start on appointments has been critically important. In many cases, it enables suppliers to open the door with a retailer that they may not necessarily do business with on a regular basis. Similarly for retailers, it offers an introduction to small and mid-size companies that have products that might be of interest for their stores. More than 8,000 appointments occur during the eight-hour program — all before the exhibit floor has even opened. For retailers looking to find the newest products and industry trends, and suppliers looking for the opportunity to bring their products to market, the Meet the Market program really is a “must-do” component of the NACDS Marketplace Conference.

DSN: What can suppliers do to prepare and make the most of Marketplace?

Roy McGrath: We have an extensive collection of resources on our website at NACDS.org to assist those who are attending the conference for the first time. One item that is quite helpful is a comprehensive handbook for “first-timers” that provides tips on how to maximize the experience. We also conduct conference calls with first-time exhibitors to provide them an opportunity to hear more about the meeting, as well as ask questions. The first conference call was held recently and was well-received with about two-thirds of first-time registrants participating in the call. We will hold another call in May with a panel of retail and supplier industry professionals. Registrants will be able to ask questions about how to make the most of the conference.

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Walgreens embraces Earth Day

BY Allison Cerra

DEERFIELD, Ill. — In celebration of Earth Day this weekend, Walgreens will turn off select interior lights and lighted exterior signage at 1,415 stores across the country for one hour on Saturday.

In New York, the Walgreens billboard in Times Square also will go dark, the drug store chain said.

“We can all do our part to help the planet,” said Walgreens community affairs director John Gremer. “We’re proud to continue our participation in this global effort because it sends a strong message that every individual can make an impact on the world’s energy consumption. And when the lights come back on, we want everyone to think about how they can keep our planet top of mind in their everyday lives.”

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