Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 20 October 2019

People need to know about dangers of buying fake drugs online, Dubai conference hears

Interpol said UAE authorities should highlight the growing issue at a time when 96 per cent of all online medicine sellers were believed to be unauthorised.
About 96 per cent of online medicine sellers are believed to be unauthorised, posing a great danger to public health. Randi Sokoloff / The National
About 96 per cent of online medicine sellers are believed to be unauthorised, posing a great danger to public health. Randi Sokoloff / The National

DUBAI // Health authorities are being urged to make the public aware of the dangers of buying illegal counterfeit drugs online.

Interpol said UAE authorities should highlight the growing issue at a time when 96 per cent of all online medicine sellers were believed to be unauthorised.

Most of the rogue websites are selling fake antibiotics, Viagra for erectile dysfunction or slimming pills.

Speaking at the Emirates International Conference on Combating Drug Counterfeiting in Dubai, the intergovernmental policing organisation’s Bjorn McClintock said fake drugs posed a double threat to the public.

“It’s not just the risk of consuming fake products, but also the belief from the patient that they are treating their symptoms. That is also dangerous,” the American said.

“Health authorities here have an opportunity to spread the message in schools and hospitals of the dangers of buying illegal medicines and drugs online.

“All countries are suffering from the problem, so a unified approach to falsified medicines is needed.”

The Interpol-led Operation Pangea was launched eight years ago to help inform the public of the risks involved.

In that time, 37 per cent of the medicines seized globally – both illegal and counterfeit – were in the Middle East, mainly Saudi Arabia and Iran. Investigators found 32 per cent of the packages had been shipped from India, and 23 per cent originated from China.

It is estimated that worldwide sales of counterfeit medicine could exceed US$75 billion (Dh 275bn) this year, a 90 per cent rise since 2010.

Interpol’s pharmaceutical unit is one of 16 specialist departments and offers operational support, information sharing, training and awareness raising on a global scale.

The key to illegal networks is shutting down online merchant accounts to make it both difficult and expensive for criminals to access payments.

“Disrupting payment facilities have proved the most effective way in helping to shut down illegal sellers,” Mr McClintock said.

“We are hoping Google will play its part.

“This is not about freedom of activity, it is about public health. The first three websites that come up when someone searches for antibiotics or slimming pills on Google can and should be monitored and investigated.”

Fake pharmaceuticals is big business and not confined to back-street bootleggers. Falsified medicines have high profit margin and are difficult to detect.

A 16ml vial of Avastin, used to treat brain tumours and cancers of the kidney, colon, rectum or lungs, costs about Dh9,180. At Dh16,895 an ounce, it is more expensive than gold, which currently sells for about Dh4,370 an ounce. The high cost has resulted in fake supplies flooding the US market, via Turkey.

“We have an idea of where this Avastin has come from but we are not 100 per cent sure,” said US Food and Drug Administration special agent Thomas South. “Just one fake vial of Avastin can ruin the whole course of treatment. It has a major impact on public health. It is a global problem.”

The USFDA has recently recovered 17,000 vials of Chinese Sensorcaine, an anaesthetic, that was just tap water. In India, vials that were supposed to be asthma treatment bricanyl syrup were found to contain e-coli.

In 2012, 100 heart patients in Pakistan died from counterfeit anti-hypertensive treatments.

In 2006, the World Health Assembly stepped up enforcement measures by launching the International Medical Products Anti-Counterfeiting Task Force (Impact).

In the first joint Impact and Interpol operation, more than 1,200 websites selling fake drugs were identified. Of those, 153 were shut down and 12 arrests were made. A lack of a clear worldwide consensus and weak laws have been blamed on further action being taken.

Professor Tawfik Khoja, director general of the health minister’s council for GCC states, said a stringent drug regulation authority was the first wall to prevent counterfeit medication.

“Each state should conduct inspections to all manufacturers and pharmaceutical products,” said the Saudi Arabian. “Cost is also a factor. Governments need to work together to find a solution and provide quality and affordable medication so people do not need to buy cheaper counterfeit drugs.”

nwebster@thenational.ae

Updated: April 20, 2015 04:00 AM

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