Fighting counterfeit medicines in the pharmaceutical industry

counterfeit medicines

Fighting counterfeit medicines in the pharmaceutical industry

counterfeit medicinesThe proliferation of counterfeit medicines has become a growing concern, impacting public health and brand integrity in the pharmaceutical industry. Data from the Pharmaceutical Security Institute paints a worrisome picture, indicating a 38% surge in pharmaceutical crime incidents in 2021 compared to the previous year.

From endangering consumers to tarnishing the reputation of legitimate companies, the threat posed by counterfeit medicines demands urgent attention. The most recent and notable case was when 68 diabetics completely lost their vision after being injected with what was thought to be a bootleg version of a well-known drug.

The impact of counterfeit medicines on brands

According to OECD’s research on medicine counterfeiting, antibiotics, lifestyle drugs, and pain relievers are the most commonly targeted drugs for counterfeiting. Other types of counterfeit medications frequently seized by authorities around the world include those used to treat malaria, diabetes, epilepsy, heart disease, allergies, high and low blood pressure, cancer, and stomach ulcers, as well as medicines for local anesthesia.

The World Health Organization estimates that there are over 1 million deaths annually from counterfeit and substandard drugs, causing $21 billion in financial damage globally.

Counterfeit medicines could potentially damage the reputation of companies and the goods involved due to their subpar quality and safety hazards. Additionally, companies may be subject to lawsuits if consumers are harmed by the counterfeit versions of their medicines.

The challenges of digital technology advancement

According to a study, the source of this ongoing problem is a complicated network of worldwide supply chains that frequently lack quality control, making it vulnerable to the infiltration of counterfeit medicines. This problem worsens with the advancement of digital technology.

The advent of e-commerce, social media, and online pharmacies has revolutionized the way consumers access pharmaceutical products. While they offer unparalleled convenience and accessibility, these sophisticated platforms also harbor a dark side: they have become hotspots for counterfeit drug peddling.

Strategies to fight counterfeit drugs

Pharmaceutical brands can employ these seven strategies to mitigate the risks associated with counterfeit medicines:

  1. Implementing a product tracking and identification system (pharmaceutical serialization). Assigning every single unit of medicine to a unique code, such as a barcode or QR code, enables tracking from the manufacturer to the consumers.
  2. Improving factory and warehouse security. Installing physical and automated safeguards such as closed-circuit televisions (CCTVs), access controls, and security sensors, can help prevent product theft and substitution of products with counterfeit drugs.
  3. Building public awareness. Educating health workers, pharmacists, and consumers on the risks associated with counterfeit drugs, as well as providing guidance on how to identify and report suspicious products, can significantly reduce the demand for counterfeit drugs.
  4. Establishing a whistleblowing system. The Canary Whistleblowing System’s diverse channels such as website forms, phone calls, and text messages, allow public access for reporting red flags and assisting brand owners in protecting trademarks by identifying the presence of counterfeit drugs circulating in the market. 
  5. Setting up an integrated control system. This allows the distribution of medicines to be controlled by the manufacturer, minimizing damage from counterfeiting, including at various distribution levels in the supply chain.
  6. Conducting due diligence in the supply chain. This includes vendor verification, which may consist of supplier audits, quality certifications, and background checks to confirm legitimacy and adherence to regulatory standards. This can be performed swiftly through Know Your Vendor.
  7. Collaborating with the authorities. By cooperating with the authorities such as local law enforcement agencies, we can report any instances of intellectual property infringement or participate in industry-wide initiatives to combat counterfeiting and piracy. We can enrich our knowledge regarding these initiatives by engaging specialized brand protection service providers to conduct continuous anti-counterfeiting programs.


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