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Tuesday, June 13, 2006

FIGHTING FAKES

The narcotics trade is aggressively fought in many parts of the world, perhaps none more popular and more funded than the US “war on drugs” now in its 33rd year. What is easy to dismiss and ignore however, is the more profitable trade of counterfeit drugs which is even more dangerous and shares many similarly devastating consequences. This practice takes the form of products which are disguised as authentic medications and sold on the open market. These items mimic popular medicinal brands that are often used to treat severe illnesses ranging from diabetes to HIV/AIDS.

There are several alarming reasons why this practice is particularly dangerous. Firstly, they prevent needy patients from receiving the required remedy for their illness as the products contain little if any of the necessary chemicals used for treatment. Secondly, in many documented cases, substances like chalk and gypsum were used to replicate certain pills. Prolonged consumption of such substances have proved harmful and even fatal as the body either rejects it or causes complication of preexisting disorders for which proper medication was needed. Thirdly, in cases such as the treatment of malaria, continued intake of these fake pills actually aid in developing mutated strains of the virus. This is also quite true for the ARVs necessary for patients that are HIV positive.

Like the HIV disease itself, the industry of fake drugs operates covertly. Its operations and so too consequences largely go undetected as thousands die each year while many more profit from these practices. There are a few reasons why such a widespread practice has not been given the attention it deserves. Developed countries fear the political fallout which would occur from peoples demand for governments to protect them against illegal importation of such substances. But much more widespread is the deliberate practice of pharmaceutical companies in shielding the names of their branded products that have become compromised. This is done in order to protect the integrity of their brand but in so doing unsuspecting patients continue to die while many more fall ill. In all likelihood this industry of deception will continue to grow – fuelled by the high costs of prescription drugs. It threatens to undermine all progress that has been made in combating major diseases especially in the developing world. Industry epicenters for manufacture and distribution exists in China, India and many other countries across East Asia while importation and widespread use of these fakes continue to infiltrate markets in every region of the world.

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