Counterfeit medicines purporting to handle everything from erectile dysfunction to cancer are a plague in the US and it is a multibillion dollar business. They go well beyond lifestyle drugs to purportedly fix just about anything and lawmakers have well and truly woken to the problem.
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As The Hill reports:
The magnitude of the problem that we can actually quantify is staggering. Earlier this year, the United States was one of 111 countries participating in INTERPOL’s Pangea sting operation, which led to nearly 11,000 illegal online pharmacies being shut down, the removal 19,000 ads for fake drugs on social media sites, the seizure of 9.4 million doses of phony medicines. And last month, Google agreed to spend $50 million annually over the next five years to crack down on advertising for illegal online pharmacies. The sheer size of these numbers means that although incremental progress is certainly being made to protect patients, much more work remains before we can eradicate the threat of counterfeits.
Congress and our federal government must take a more serious look at the problem, and work toward solutions that can drastically reduce, if not eliminate, the menace of counterfeit drugs. First and foremost, patient awareness isn’t anywhere near the level it needs to be to ensure people can make informed decisions when purchasing medicines over the internet. Agencies like the FDA should be given the resources to better educate Americans about the health and safety dangers from purchasing from rogue online pharmacies.
And in order to get to the root of the problem, stopping those who are manufacturing and selling potentially lethal fake medicines, law enforcement agencies should have appropriate funding to more aggressively pursue counterfeiters and put them behind bars. This is especially true for the overtasked, underfunded and very small Office of Criminal Investigations (OCI) within the FDA. Lastly, legislation should be enacted to give FDA/OCI administrative authority to require production of documents to assist in their Internet and related investigations, and increase penalties for trafficking in counterfeit, substandard, unapproved, and misbranded drugs.