Statistics on the global counterfeit drug trade are alarming, but with the right measures in place, pharmaceutical companies can help stop these illegal activities.A counterfeit drug or medicine is one that is deliberately and fraudulently mislabeled with respect to identity and/or source, according to World Health Organization (WHO) standards. These products are created with the specific intent to deceive consumers.
Unfortunately, fraudulent medicines can be harmful to patients, sometimes even resulting in death or a worsening condition. In addition to these adverse effects, they put the brand reputation of pharmaceutical companies in danger. Worse, illegal funds are often used to finance other fraudulent activities and counterfeit drug production, or even terrorist activities.
Let’s look at some of the most troublesome counterfeit drug statistics and measures that can be taken to counteract these illegal activities.
Counterfeit drugs statistics you need to know
According to a report from the Partnership for Safe Medicines, in the U.S. alone, as many as 19 million consumers are buying medications outside of the safe drug supply, whether from online pharmacies outside the legal jurisdiction of their government or other unlicensed sources. Since 2012, smugglers have been caught selling 63 different medications to over 3,000 doctors, clinics and hospitals across the country. These drugs claim to help arthritis, Crohn’s disease, infertility, cancer, migraines and other ailments.
Data from the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy (NABP) reveals that in 2018, out of 11,943 internet drug sellers, 94.8% were non-compliant and listed as “not recommended.” The majority of these sites (89%) did not require a valid prescription, which is one of the many signs that a pharmacy is not legitimate.
Against those challenges, what measures can pharmaceutical companies take to protect their interests and reduce drug counterfeiting?
1. Raise awareness
Pharmaceutical companies are tasked with educating their consumer base about the risks of counterfeit medicines and how to watch out for scams, including when scammers try to imitate government agencies or when online illegitimate pharmacies offer low prices that seem appealing to low-income patients.
Make sure you’re also checking in with associations and large organizations that are alerted to counterfeit drug incidents. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has a Counterfeit Alert Network that notifies network members anytime there are reports of fake medicine. This helps spread the word to the community at large, including consumers and healthcare professionals.
Legitimate drugs can only be purchased online by pharmacies that have been certified by the NABP, which can be determined by whether the website displays the Verified Internet Pharmacy Practice Sites (VIPPS™) program certification.
2. Focus on drug supply chain integrity
Counterfeiting is just one threat that pervades the global drug supply chain. But it is no small matter, and every company in the industry needs to be aware of the risks and best practices to avoid them. There are several FDA initiatives that combat supply chain issues, including BeSafeRx, Know Your Source: Protecting Patients from Unsafe Drugs, and sending letters to doctors who may have purchased counterfeit or unapproved prescription drugs. The FDA also has a system in place for people to report any problems or suspected issues to the administration.
Effective supply chain security in the pharmaceutical industry requires multiple layers of protection. Techniques for adequate prevention, detection and response must all be included in the strategy, addressing each and every area of vulnerability. Employees at each stage of the supply chain need to be in constant communication, for example, and products should be scanned throughout the distribution process, from manufacture to sale.
3. Product protection for pharmaceutical companies
Companies that manufacture and sell drugs should also take steps to protect their individual products as well as their brands. Using a product protection tool that allows for instant label scanning for fast and easy authentication is one way to implement pharma anti-counterfeiting tactics, as is creating labels that are impossible to imitate.
The product protection solution from U-NICA also incorporates brand value protection, which is important to maintain a pharmaceutical company’s reputation as a trusted source of approved medicines. Our scryptoTRACE® solution combines these two concepts, since one strategy on its own just isn’t enough. Our smartphone app allows both consumers and brand agents to scan products to complete the authentication process and identify counterfeit drugs instantly, and real-time data from the app helps teams plan for the future.