Up to EUR 4 billion worth of counterfeit pharmaceuticals traded worldwide

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  • Antibiotics, lifestyle drugs and painkillers the most targeted by counterfeiters 
  • Customs seizures include counterfeit malaria, diabetes, cancer and heart disease treatments 
  • Growth in small parcel deliveries is facilitating trade in fake pharmaceuticals 

A new report released today by the European Union Intellectual Property Office (EUIPO) and the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) estimates the total value of counterfeit pharmaceuticals traded worldwide to be up to EUR 4.03 billion.

Customs seizure data analysed in the study, which covers the period 2014-2016, shows that counterfeit antibiotics, lifestyle drugs and painkillers were the most frequently encountered. However, other medicines like counterfeit cancer treatment medication, diabetes treatment drugs, local anaesthetics, malaria treatment drugs, HIV treatment drugs, and heart disease medication were also seized by customs officials. The World Health Organization, one of the sources consulted for this study, estimates that the presence of sub-standard and counterfeit anti-malarial drugs in sub-Saharan Africa can add up to 116 000 deaths annually.

This counterfeit trade is facilitated by the growth in small package shipments by parcel post or letter packets, which are more difficult for customs officers to detect. Between 2014-2016, 96% of all customs seizures of counterfeit pharmaceuticals were of postal or express courier deliveries. The Executive Director of the EUIPO, Christian Archambeau, said: “Counterfeit pharmaceuticals can pose a direct threat to health and life, and their arrival into the EU, often through small parcels and internet sales, poses a challenge for enforcers. Tackling this issue requires that the current national and EU-level coordination is further reinforced, and supported by global actions.”

India and China are identified as the largest producers of counterfeit pharmaceuticals at global level, with Singapore and Hong Kong appearing as the most important transit points in the counterfeit pharmaceutical supply chain. Companies and businesses most affected by counterfeiting and piracy are primarily based in OECD countries such as the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Austria, Germany and Switzerland.

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