World Anti-Counterfeiting Day: Joining forces in the fight against falsified medicines

Counterfeit (a.k.a.) fake medicines represent a threat to patients’ health and safety. They are not subject to the rigorous evaluation of quality, safety and efficacy that is required as part of EU authorisation procedure. They contain insufficient quantities, the wrong or no pharmaceutical ingredient at all. At “best”, they don’t work. In the worst cases, they can harm or even kill patients.

Over the last months, while the world was fighting against the COVID-19 pandemic, health authorities across the world reported a rise in fake medicines. Often, when demand for basic medical equipment and treatments increases exponentially, unfortunately, there is someone looking to make a quick buck by ‘meeting’ that demand with counterfeit medicines.

Their reasons are simple: it’s hugely profitable, the risk of detection is low, the risk of prosecution is even lower and the penalties are weak. But the impact on patients can be terrible. From face masks, gloves, hand sanitizers to over the counter medicines like paracetamol and specialized drugs like antibiotics and painkillers the counterfeiters are turning a profit from the COVID-19 crisis. More information can be found in the recently published OECD report ‘Trade in Counterfeit Pharmaceutical Products’ available here.

There has never been a more important time to stress the need for patients and consumers at large to only buy their medicines from legitimate, trusted sources. In fact, given the current pandemic outbreak and the problems posed by the confinement measures, more and more Europeans are turning to the internet and home deliveries to meet (some of) their basic necessities. There is a significant risk that, when it comes to medicines, that citizens might turn to questionable online suppliers. To help, the EU has introduced a common logo for legally operating online pharmacies and retailers in EU countries as one of the measures to fight against falsified medicines. The logo vouches for the authenticity of the websites and guarantees the safety of the products. The list of registered online medicines retailers can be found here.

One of the other important measures set up in collaboration with manufacturers of medicines, supply chain operators and pharmacies is the European Falsified Medicines Directive 2011/62/EU to identify and eliminate the presence of counterfeit medicines throughout Europe. The safety of medicines should always be a priority, not least in a pandemic. Patients need to be able to trust that the medicines they take are of high quality, safe and effective. In times like these, a strong and robust regulatory system makes sure this is what happens. Pharmaceutical manufacturers and regulatory authorities are working around the clock to make sure that medicines are delivered to patients across Europe when they are needed. When delivering those medicines, it is crucially important that no falsified medicines penetrate the supply chain. In the EU, the European Falsified Medicines Directive 2011/62/EU makes sure that happens, by imposing additional requirements on manufacturers and supply chain operators up to and including pharmacies. Now is the time to double down on our efforts and make sure of its proper implementation.

Together we are committed to promoting access to safe and efficacious medicines, raising awareness about the dangers of counterfeit medicines, and combating unsafe medicines.

Nathalie Moll

Nathalie Moll joined the European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industries and Associations (EFPIA) as Director...
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