Pop Quiz: Counterfeit Medicines

Last week, Lilly’s Communication Manager for Global Health Programs, Karen Van der Westhuizen, wrote a terrific guest blog highlighting the need for public-private partnerships to tackle non-communicable diseases worldwide. Today, I wanted to take a look at another growing global health issue—counterfeit medications. What better way to explore the topic than with a quiz?

True or False: Counterfeit medications primarily affect the health of those in developing countries.

False. In an op-ed for the New York Times, American Enterprise Institute (AEI) scholar, Roger Bate introduces a new study which found that falsified and substandard antibiotics have been widely used to treat tuberculosis. According to Bate, as a result of substandard medicines, diseases like tuberculosis become more resistant to drugs. When existing medications fail to adequately treat health challenges, these drug-resistant diseases pose a serious threat to the health of patients worldwide.

The threat of counterfeit medications extends beyond the borders of developing countries. While the poor infrastructure of some nations expose the pharmaceutical supply chain to vulnerabilities, even countries with strong government regulation see a growing risk from sophisticated criminal networks that utilize digital technology to peddle counterfeit medications.

Fill in the blank: Of approximately 9,000 websites delivering medications to U.S. patients, ___% did NOT meet standards set by U.S. law.

A). 26%

B). 46%

C). 76%

D). 96%

D- 96%. According to a study by the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy, only about 4% of online pharmacies serving American patients were operating in compliance with U.S. law. Rogue online pharmacies have been known to sell dangerous counterfeit medicines and to have links to organized criminal activities. Without policy change the proliferation of illegal online drug sellers is likely to continue because of the high profit margins associated with counterfeit medications.

Multiple choice: How much money does the counterfeit medication market produce for criminal organizations each year?

A). $35 million

B). $10 billion

C). $75 billion

D). $100 million

C-$75 billion AT LEAST. Estimates differ regarding the very high profits from counterfeit drugs, but projections indicate that counterfeit drug sales resulted in at least $75 billion in 2010, and likely much more today. Criminals are drawn to pharmaceutical counterfeiting by the prospects of high profits and low risks. Counterfeiters are rarely prosecuted, and with the increased anonymity afforded by the Internet, online pharmacies continue to threaten patient safety.

Lilly’s commitment to patient health has guided our active engagement in efforts to combat counterfeiting. As a founding member and steering group participant of the Alliance for Safe Online Pharmacies (ASOP), Lilly looks forward to continuing to work with our partners to ensure patients continue to have access to safe and legitimate online medicines.