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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 22 January 2019

Fake Viagra putting patients' lives at risk 

Counterfeiting raids taking place every day across the UAE to stamp out illegal trade

A wave of fake drugs is putting patients’ lives at risk with Viagra and human growth hormones the most common counterfeit medications sold illegally in the UAE. The National
A wave of fake drugs is putting patients’ lives at risk with Viagra and human growth hormones the most common counterfeit medications sold illegally in the UAE. The National

A wave of fake drugs including counterfeit Viagra is putting UAE patients’ lives at risk, experts have warned.

Pharmaceutical firms said a booming trade in smuggled products meant consumers were exposed to increased health risks.

Replicated medicines can often contain deadly substitutes like fentanyl, a synthetic opioid, as well as lead paint or arsenic.

Other common counterfeit medications sold illegally in the Emirates include human growth hormones used by body builders.

On Sunday, representatives from American pharmaceutical giant Pfizer said Viagra was the most commonly seized counterfeit drug in the UAE, although exact figures were not disclosed.

“Viagra is heavily counterfeited,” said Steve Jones, director of global security at the multinational.

“It's a global problem as criminals view counterfeit medicines as high reward, with low risk.

“Patients are taking fake medicines assuming they will make them well, but in fact could have the wrong dose, or be dangerous if containing toxins.

“We have recorded pesticides, arsenic and even leaded paint to give colour to pills. They can do real harm and cause death in extreme cases.”

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Mr Jones made his remarks at a two-day summit in Dubai aimed at improving detection methods for illegally smuggled drugs.

Experts said fake medicines were commonly manufactured in back-street labs in China, India and South America and imported into the UAE hidden in everyday items.

Thousands of pills have been intercepted by port authorities in hollowed out blocks of marble, destined for construction projects.

Other techniques have included concealing counterfeit items in electronic door bells, stuffed toys, rice cookers, television boxes and furniture.

Viagra is a drug most usually prescribed for erectile dysfunction, with fakes often having a slightly different colour, texture or taste.

Other drugs being faked include lipitor, an anti-cholesterol drug, and genotropin, a growth hormone used for underdeveloped children and bodybuilding.

“Viagra has been available for a while and there is a big market for it,” said Mr Jones, who used to work in the narcotics division of the UK National Crime Agency.

“Because of that we get a lot of reporting on Viagra.

“Our biggest concern is these drugs are being made in unlicensed and unregulated conditions that are often unhygienic, so there is a serious risk to public health.

“If anyone has a doubt over any medication, they should contact their local authority and report it.”

Drug analysts in Houston, America, have reported traces of fentanyl in some fake pharmaceuticals.

The drug, which can be lethal even in small doses, has been found in traces of Oxycodone and Xanax, drugs prescribed to treat pain, anxiety and panic disorders.

Between 2013-14, more than 700 fentanyl-related deaths occurred in America.

The internet is proving the most universal marketplace for counterfeit drugs, according to experts.

A 2017 report by the UK Intellectual Property Office found social media was the most distinctive medium for communication of sales of counterfeit goods.

Hatem Abdelghani, director of The Legal Group, a Dubai company offering training and partnerships between brands and local authorities in anti-counterfeiting operations, said UAE raids targeting fake merchandise were taking place up to four times a day.

“We come across fake goods every day in Dubai and elsewhere in the UAE, with Viagra the most common medication we are recovering,” he said.

“It is a constant effort; once a week in Sharjah and twice a week in Ajman.

“We can send mystery shoppers in as buyers to traders suspected of selling any counterfeit items.

“If we have evidence we then notify the client or brand and seek a penalty from authorities so action can be taken.”

Penalties depend on the level of offence and if the trader is a repeat offender. They vary between emirates.

In Sharjah, it is usually 50 per cent of the value of fake products seized, while in Ajman it is Dh15,000 per offence and in Dubai up to Dh120,000.

“In the biggest cases shops can be shut down,” said Mr Abdelghani. “With the help of police the offender can be sent to the criminal court for sentencing.”

Updated: December 9, 2018 05:52 PM

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