The Real Contagion? Fake Drugs Pose Real Health Threat

Feb 8, 2013

Chin Han and Marion Cotillard perform in the film “Contagion” in this undated photo released to the press on Sept. 8, 2011. Photographer: Claudette Barius/Warner Bros. via Bloomberg.

It’s like a scene from a Hollywood movie. A disease that most Americans think of as something exclusive to the third world comes to the U.S. The drugs that have long been used to treat the disease are resistant. The epidemic begins.

It’s not as far-fetched as it should be.

Scientists and doctors work day in and day out to combat infectious diseases. The average medicine requires at least a decade of research and development and $1.3 billion in investment to make it effective and safe. Over the past century, incredible medical breakthroughs have saved lives and stopped the spread—and even eradicated—diseases.

But criminal counterfeiters are threatening to undo medical progress. Researchers recently found that an increasing number of patients suffering from tuberculosis—the second deadliest infectious disease—are being treated with substandard or fake antibiotics.

Putting aside the ethical horrors of these subpar drugs, there is another alarming reality: the disease is becoming more resistant to drugs. Recent research in the International Journal of Tuberculosis and Lung Disease demonstrates that this is a very real threat and the consequences of inaction are unnerving. In a New York Times op-ed, researcher Roger Bate said:

Some patients will die outright when shoddy medicines fail to cure them. Others will take drugs with too little active ingredient, killing some of their infection’s bacteria but leaving the strongest to multiply. These patients could go on to spread a drug-resistant form of the disease, which is deadlier and vastly more expensive to control.

Unfortunately, the tuberculosis example is not an isolated incident. As much as 25% of drugs in some parts of the developing world could be counterfeit, and developed countries like U.S. are also at risk. Just this week, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) warned doctors of a new batch of fake versions of the cancer medicine, Avastin.

The emerging business model of counterfeiting is turning out to be a windfall for criminal organizations. With minimal resources put into manufacturing a variety of fakes, authorities are saying that this trade has become more lucrative than drug dealing.

Dangerous fakes may be discounted, but can carry the heaviest price—human life. To learn more about the fight against counterfeiting and how to protect innovation and safety, visit www.theGlobalIPCenter.com

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