Calls for a global treaty to clamp down on counterfeit drugs

Experts are calling for the introduction of a global treaty to fight the growing problem of trading in potentially fatal counterfeit medicines, of which some of the risks we have previously described back in February . The demands might have something to do with the fact that currently there are bizarrely more sanctions in place regarding the trading of illegal tobacco than counterfeit drugs. In addition, the World Health Organization (WHO) claim that in less developed nations, roughly over one in every 10 drug products are fake and around a third of malaria medicines (i.e. Malarone and Paludrine) are counterfeit, particularly a major issue in certain areas of Africa and Asia.

In more developed nations such as the UK and the U.S., patients can relax somewhat in that medicine safety is a lot better, however there is still a risk of adverse reactions or even deaths being caused as a result of substandard and falsified drugs. This was shown recently when a contaminated batch of methylprednisolone acetate steroid injections that were given to patients in the U.S. for back pain, resulted in an outbreak of fungal meningitisand subsequently the deaths of 24 people.

In a paper published in the British Medical Journal on Wednesday, academics and health professionals demanded for the introduction of a new international law to prevent the flood of lethal drugs into the market.

Their article, argues strenuously that a fake drugs treaty is required, similar to those that already exist to combat money laundering and human trafficking. The publishing of the paper comes just week before 100 states are due to congregate in Beunos Aires, Argentina, and conduct the first meeting of its kind that aims to find effective ways on how the tackle the global problem.

However, the lead author of the report, Amir Attaran of the University of Ottawa, was angered on Monday after being informed by WHO that he and other non-governmental representatives were forbidden from attending, after an objection by India, whose large drugs industry is responsible for manufacturing cheap generic versions of medications. India believe that Western governments backed by ‘Big Pharma’, are using the counterfeit drugs fight as a smokescreen for their real aim; restricting trade in unpatented medicines that are actually urgently required by the poor.

Attaran blasted it was a ‘scandal’ that only government officials were permitted to attend the meeting in Argentina to discuss strategy for fighting counterfeit drugs. He is confused that by under the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, tobacco products must be tracked and criminalises illicit trade globally, “oddly making the law tougher on cigarette falsification than on medicine falsification” he says.

Attaran continued: “The protocol will now make it a requirement to track and trace tobacco products. Cigarette packets can carry serial numbers so it is possible to track them from beginning to end. If this is something you can do for a $5 cigarette packet I do not see why we can’t do it for a $3,000 packet of drugs that could save your life. In Canada we have seen a fake version of the heart drug Avastin come into the country that contains no active drug, just starch and nail polish remover. When you are dealing with a medicine like that if there was a serial number on it you would be able to easily see if it was fake.”

Medical Specialists agree that action needs to be taken to stem the tide of deadly drugs reaching unsuspecting patients. For this to happen though there clearly needs to be a lot less distrust amongst government, public health campaigners and pharmaceutical companies.

Patients around the globe never need to worry about dangerous fakes when dealing with Medical Specialists Pharmacy. Established in 1994 and becoming the UK’s first legal online clinic in 2001, we are fully registered with the General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC) and also a member of the National Pharmacy Association (NPA). Our team of Doctors are registered with the General Medical Council (GMC) and our Pharmacists are registered with the Royal Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain (RPSGB).

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