Counterfeit medicines: a bitter pill during a pandemic
Counterfeit medicine is a multibillion-dollar pernicious business that has posed a threat to global economies and public health. The emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic has had a tremendous influence in this business’ supply chain, allowing a greater circulation and direct reach to customers. Ironically, at a time when the world is suffering from a health crisis and requires more medications, counterfeiters are increasingly exploiting the situation and threatening public safety. This situation makes combating counterfeit medicine circulation much more challenging and crucial for stakeholders, primarily brands/brand rights holders.
Counterfeit medicines and its impact
According to the Minister of Health of Indonesia, through MoH Decree No. 1010/2008, counterfeit medicines are defined as drugs manufactured by the unauthorized manufacturer against the regulatory system or drug manufacturing by using the similar identity of another drug which has had a marketing authorization.
In general, they contain the incorrect active ingredient, the wrong quantity of the correct active ingredient, any combination of the two, or contain no active ingredient at all. However, a recent finding showed that counterfeit medications may also contain lethal narcotic ingredients.
In addition, counterfeit drugs usually contain an inappropriate mixture, such as cornstarch, potato starch, or lime. As these illegal drugs are often made in unhygienic conditions by unqualified workers, it is possible for contaminants and microorganisms to be found in counterfeit drugs. In one case, counterfeit inhalers for the treatment of pediatric cystic fibrosis were found to contain contaminated bacteria that went directly into the lungs of unsuspecting children.
In Indonesia, the counterfeit medicines are typically pharmaceuticals widely sought after by the general public, such as erectile dysfunction drugs, antibiotics, antipyretic-analgesic, antihypertensive, antimalarial drugs, as well as vaccines. These products may not create a visible bad effect, but they fail to treat a disease or condition appropriately, or even make it worse, which in the end is dangerous for the consumers’ health.
Most of these illegal products are homemade, sold, and distributed online and offline, such as small drug stores and pharmacies. The more concerning case occurred in 2019, when repackaged drugs (made of generic drugs and expired drugs) were found to be distributed to a few well-known pharmacies in major cities (Jabodetabek) through a pharmaceutical wholesaler.
Counterfeit medicines have far-reaching consequences for the government, society, and industry. The government loses tax income. Brands lose earnings, brand value, reputation, and even loyalties. And the consumers who take these medications face genuine and dangerous hazards to their health and safety.
Pandemy fuels surge in the counterfeit medicines
COVID-19 pandemic fuels the surge in the already rapidly expanding trend of online shopping as well as the distribution of counterfeit medicines around the globe, primarily in developing countries. According to a source, while other industries have experienced a decrease in demand, the pharmaceutical demand has increased significantly since the onset of COVID-19.
With the implementation of global physical distancing, travel bans, and closures of physical stores, this situation has forced many companies, including counterfeiters, to fully sell their goods directly to their customers through online channels such as e-commerce. On the one hand, this situation is advantageous because setting up an attractive store in e-commerce is much easier compared to conventional stores. E-commerce allows counterfeiters to reach a wider range of customers at a low cost, allows them to remain anonymous, and provides them a convenient way of making transactions.
The increasing demands for medicines and the availability of online channels open more doors for counterfeiters to reach a wider range of consumers to sell their illegal products directly.
Measures to combat the distribution
Numerous Indonesian marketplaces have taken firm measures as a response to the extensive distribution of counterfeit items, including counterfeit medicines. These include taking down items from the platform, shutting down the stores, and even imposing legal fines.
All the measures come down to the fundamentals of combating the counterfeits, which are to protect brands’ assets and consumers’ safety. However, one party’s effort is not enough. To effectively achieve the fundamentals requires the involvement of all stakeholders from consumers, marketplaces, government, Law Enforcement Agencies (LEA), and the right holders themselves to proactively protect their brands’ reputation.
Integrity Asia has more than two decades of experience in providing compliance services, including brand protection services. Our brand protection services comprehensively cover detection (both offline and online), investigation, and mitigation.
In parallel, investigations against online counterfeit medicines can also be carried out to identify the seller as well as the distributor or counterfeiter of the drugs. Reports to law enforcement agencies can be made based on the findings.
We also have collaborated with global marketplace platforms to take down infringing items and conduct a continuous monitoring of online channels to detect and identify whether the infringing items are being sold again using a different account or channel. Contact us for more information about brand protection services.