In light of the fake Avastin scandal, many are now wondering exactly how many counterfeit medications are on the market today. According to an interview with The Financial Times, one CEO says that the problem is much more wide spread than one would think.
Pfizer CEO Ian Read said the company confirmed more than 50 fakes of its drugs in at least 101 countries just last year.
An investigation by The Wall Street Journal reported that in 2010, fake Avastin was found in Shanghai and in Syria a year earlier. The issue has again prompted discussions of whether unique labeling or other procedures are needed to protect against counterfeits, which can be useless and deadly. Counterfeits have been more of a problem in developing countries that have less stringent oversight. But with the money that can be made, there are fears more fakes will start showing up in places like the U.S. and Europe.
Bill Donnelly, Pfizer’s chief of anti-counterfeiting for North America said that
“Outlaw pill makers usually want to make sure they work well enough to keep users coming back but take risks with health.”
“They are more likely to put too much active ingredient,” said Donnelly, a retired FBI agent. “If it works too well, people will buy it again.” And that is the risk, he said.
“The problem is you don’t know how these things are manufactured,” he said. “They are potentially putting their lives in danger because they really don’t know where these things are coming from.”
Pfizer, which works internationally with law-enforcement to uncover as well as prosecute cases of counterfeiting, said it has tested seized pills that contained wallboard or been colored by the same paint used on highways.
“Another thing with counterfeits is they are often manufactured in places where you wouldn’t even want to walk around,” Donnelly said. “Some of these places are filthy.”
About 8.3 million fake Pfizer tablets were seized worldwide in 2010, according to the company, and 57 percent of those were copies of Viagra.