What is counterfeiting?
The World Health Organization (WHO) defines a counterfeit medicine as one that is deliberately and fraudulently mislabelled with respect to identity and/or source.
Why is counterfeiting dangerous?
Counterfeit medicines may contain no active pharmaceutical ingredient (API), too little or too much API, the wrong API, or other inappropriate substances or impurities. Counterfeit medicines are usually not properly tested and may not be manufactured under sterile or hygienic conditions.
If patients take counterfeit medicines their treatment may fail or they may suffer unexpected side effects. In the most serious cases, taking a counterfeit medicine can be fatal.
How common is counterfeiting?
It is difficult to measure, as many cases of counterfeiting are never discovered. The World Health Organisation has estimated that counterfeit drugs may account for up to 30% of medicines sold in developing countries, and even more in some countries. In developed countries such as North America and Europe the figure has been estimated at less than 1%. The WHO has estimated that 50% of medicines available from internet pharmacies that conceal their physical address are counterfeit.
Counterfeiting is a growing problem in all regions of the world, due to the large profits that can be made, a lack of anti-counterfeiting regulation, and the relatively lenient penalties currently enforced against convicted counterfeiters in many markets. Many organised crime networks, terrorist organisations and narcotics gangs are involved in counterfeiting.
What types of products are most likely to be counterfeited?
Counterfeiters target all types of medicines and vaccines, including branded and generic products. The most widely used and profitable medicines are among those most likely to be counterfeited.