Pfizer’s fight against the illegal fake drug industry

We will begin by stating the obvious: counterfeit drugs are dangerous. You know that, Medical Specialists know that, and we are one of many organisations around the globe who are dedicated in bringing the fight to counterfeiters and see justice prevail. Unfortunately the dangers these people are creating for the customers who buy them does not seem to have much moral impact on them, and many illegal websites still exist today despite the recent closure of 18,000 of such websites.

One popular drug for imitations and poorly-made copies since its launch in 1998 is the Erectile Dysfunction medication Viagra. Manufactured by Pfizer – the maker of smoking cessation drug Champix and countless other medications, it has become a prime target for forgery due to its profitability.

In 2011 (just in the U.S.) it managed to hit $1.04 billion in sales after Pfizer’s incredible marketing outlay of $85 million in the same year. Counterfeiters recognise the stigma that still exists with the subject of male impotence, and some men are still embarrassed about the subject. The fake websites are easy to spot with no listed contact details and where doctor’s consultations are usually not required, but there are men who do not look for these easy-to-spot signs and just want the no-hassle purchase of the supposed inexpensive ‘Viagra’ tablets.

It was also in 2011 when an undercover agent for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security decided to order discounted ‘Viagra’ on hardtofindrx.com. Fast delivery was assured, however it then took a fortnight for 67 blue, diamond-shaped pills to arrive supplied with a return address of ‘B. Green, High Point, N.C.’. Their authenticity was tested by forwarding the package on to director of Pfizer’s global security team Brian Donnelly, whose team begin by photographing a package’s exterior. After this, they thoroughly analyse things such as markings on the blister packs to the colour of the casings and then dissect the pills to test the chemistry of the powder within.

Counterfeit Pfizer medications are sent to Pfizer several times a week by police and usually it only requires a few days to find out how genuine they are. Fake drugs can contain a whole range of disgusting and lethal ingredients such as brick dust, chalk, paint, pesticides and Pfizer Senior Scientist Amy Callanan even recalls one bogus batch of 17,000 ‘stamina booster’ capsules from a haul in South Korea actually contained the remains of human foetuses.

After scrutinising the 67 ED pills, Donnelly’s team realised that the alias name ‘B. Green’ was one they had encountered in previous investigations into counterfeit dealings and Pfizer had received fake drugs from this name on many occasions. After lab tests confirmed the pills were indeed fake, a detailed report was sent to the FBI from Pfizer and Federal agents asked postal service investigators to check for any surveillance footage they might have that shows a ‘B. Green’ caught in the act of mailing any packages.

After investigations USPS officials managed to identify who they believed to be the suspect: a white male, about six feet tall, parking a red Ford F-150 pickup truck outside a post office in the small town of Trinity, N.C.  ‘B. Green’ was just one of many individuals known as a ‘drop shipper’ – recruited by foreign distributors to receive bulk deliveries from overseas and prepare individual orders to be dispatched to the unknowing public. The advantage of this method is that the customer will receive a delivery showing a more ‘reassuring’ U.S. return address and if customs investigates a package at the border, the resulting notification letter will be sent to the drop shipper and not the customer.

The drop shipper in this instance – aka B. Green – was identified to be an individual by the name of Shane Lance, a 41-year old from North Carolina who eventually pled guilty to one count of conspiracy to traffic and one of trafficking. In November of 2011 he received a 10 month prison sentence and a $5,100 fine owed to Pfizer.

Lance’s relatively small prison sentence and fine was perhaps surprising but was explained by Brian Donnelly: “If he were a crack dealer, for the same type of operation he’d be looking at a five-year minimum”, indicating that the legislation involved with drug counterfeiting need to be severely addressed with a much tougher punishment.

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