Friday, July 07, 2006

Counterfeit Drugs --- Especially Tamiflu

Drug counterfeiting is very big business. The World Health Organization has stated that it expects worldwide counterfeit drug sales to reach $75 billion by 2010, which would just about double their estimates of 2005 counterfeit drug sales.

If the counterfeiting was just for Viagra and Rogaine, then perhaps one could say that this fraud just exploits misplaced vanity. While it is true that vanity drugs are widely counterfeited, so are many drugs that have important heath consequences, such as those needed by HIV patients to minimize the risks of infection and those used by chemotherapy patients to help them cope with chronic anemia.

Tamiflu Is a Sitting Duck

The antiviral Tamiflu is the drug of choice for treatment and prevention of influenza infection. It has a profound role in global pandemic preparations, and governments throughout the world have create substantial stockpiles of the drug. Still, only a few nations (such as Kuwait) have enough Tamiflu on hand to provide for every resident. The US stockpile provides a course of treatment for only about 3% of the population.

In this situation it is natural for consumers to seek a private supply of Tamiflu for the protection of their family. A year or so ago, many physicians were willing to write prescriptions for patients who just wanted to have some Tamiflu on hand in case of a pandemic. Today, because of the established public health policies, most US physicians will no longer write such prescriptions.

This pushes many consumers to the internet and into the real possibility of purchasing counterfeit drugs. Where demand exceeds supply and where it is difficult to tell if a product is counterfeit, it is a law of economics that counterfeit products will be produced and sold.

Worse yet, once there is some established market for a counterfeit product the lure of large margins virtually guarantees that the counterfeiters will try to expand their markets. What is then the greatest market of them all? Nothing less than Hometown Pharmacy, USA .

The possibility of counterfeit drugs entering into mainstream distribution is a huge treat to public heath.

Current Defensive Measures

Many feel that the government has been slow to guard citizens against drug counterfeiting but actions are being taken. As of December 2, 2006 pharmaceutical distributors in the United States will be required to provide "pedigrees" for the products that they sell. That is, they must be able to provide a paper trail that confirms the proper custody of the drugs as wind their way from manufacturer through a distributor and a retailer on to the consumer.

The Next Level of Defense: RFID Supply Chain Tracking

For reasons of cost saving, RFID has been actively promoted by major retailers such as Wal-Mart, but it is in pharmaceutical supply chains that RFID may offer the greatest public benefit. With the use of RFID the chain of custody of a pharmaceutical can be maintained with very little human interruption from the point of manufacture to the point of consumption. There is no doubt that this will be the technology of choice. The use of RFID is cheap and inevitable. Firms or lobbyists choosing to resist this transition simply paint themselves as fools.

One Internet Trick for Spotting Untrustworthy Merchants

If after all due consideration, you still decide to buy Tamiflu over the internet, then there are some precautions you can take. First, if the site you are considering does not have a telephone number, just forget it --- that is not the internet pharmacy for you.

There is a second, more subtle, check that is also informative. Take that listed phone number from your candidate pharmacy, copy it into the Google search box, and stand back. Do not be surprised it you find that literally HUNDREDS of internet pharmacies are using the same telephone number.

While there is a logical possibility that these "pharmacies" sell only genuine products, any internet business that feels the need to create hundreds of slightly camouflaged clones --- well --- one might say that they that have not shown an abiding commitment to clear, honest, and forthright business practices. You may want to continue --- or perhaps discontinue --- your search.

3 Comments:

Blogger gs2 said...

why is there no company who buys Tamiflus online by straw men
and who tests it and publishes the results together with the company who sold it ?

3:26 PM  
Blogger gs2 said...

why is there no company who buys Tamiflus online by straw men
and who tests it and publishes the results together with the company who sold it ?

3:26 PM  
Blogger Wyatt Yankus said...

The American Council on Science and Health (http://www.acsh.org), at which I work, had considered such an effort, but discovered that it would be both cost-prohibitive and of limited effectiveness.

First of all, contrary to what CSI might suggest, pharmaceutical testing takes weeks to complete and is very expensive. The pharmaceutical companies are already swamped with requests for testing, and would be unlikely to be willing to test any significant number of samples.

More importantly, even if you could determine that a particular site did sell counterfeits, there would be no way to prosecute the company behind it. Most of these sites are really just fronts set up by well organized criminal rings who are based overseas and can't be traced.

Ultimately, the best solution is to educate the public about the dangers of buying their prescription drugs from any source that does not require a prescription to buy pharmaceuticals.

11:38 AM  

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