How Can We Still Deliver an Effective Anti-Counterfeiting Program When Facing Cost Restraints?
Cases of counterfeit pharmaceuticals being discovered entering the United States are on the up.
Up 200 percent to $11 million (£7 million) in 2011 to be precise, based on the domestic value of seizures from the Customs and Border Protection (CBP) last year.
This significant rise comes in part as a result of what the CBP calls a 'number of successful enforcement efforts' that led to increases in both the number and value of seizures – but the figures cannot be ignored.
Counterfeit pharmaceuticals pose a significant threat to both the health of the public and the health of an industry relied upon to deliver life-saving drugs.
But with cost constraints biting, how can pharmaceutical companies continue to deliver an effective anti-counterfeiting programme?
Pharmaceuticals consistently rank within the top ten categories for counterfeit goods; the rise in both seizures of counterfeit drugs and perfumes is credited with increasing to over $60 million the value of goods seized that presented a risk to the health of Americans.
Acting CBP commissioner David V. Aguilar added: "The growth of websites selling counterfeit goods directly to consumers is one reason why CBP and ICE have seen a significant increase in the number of seizures at mail and express courier facilities.
"Although these websites may have low prices, what they do not tell consumers is that the true costs to our nation and consumers include lost jobs, stolen business profits, threats to our national security, and a serious risk of injury to consumers."
As his statement intimates, greater consumer education is one way in which pharmaceutical companies can step up their fight against counterfeit pharmaceuticals, without investing heavily in new technologies.
The growth of the internet and social media are already offering new ways in which pharmaceutical companies can communicate with consumers.
Counterfeiters are already using social media to sell their illegal drugs, a study last year from California Western School of Law found, and legitimate players are now harnessing the medium to do the same.
Pfizer UK's Real Danger campaign on Twitter, YouTube and Facebook uses the growth around social media to educate the public on the problem of counterfeit medicines, in particularly those bought online.
"Counterfeiters are very quick to adopt the latest technologies or online trends to catch unsuspecting people out," the company noted.
But what of those counterfeit drugs that enter circulation through the legitimate supply chain – a challenge that is made greater as the globalisation of the pharmaceutical industry continues.
In 2011, the value of pharmaceutical seizures from China increased by $4.3 million, the CBP figures show. Seizures of counterfeit drugs from both India and Pakistan helped both nations make the top ten list of source countries.
The seizure of pharmaceuticals accounted for 86 percent of intellectual property right seizures from India and 85 percent from Pakistan.
Part of the answer to the issue of counterfeits lies in packaging. Anti-tamper packaging, serialisation and authentication mark the three key stages in using packing to ensure a secure supply chain.
In the United States, part of the answer to stemming the tide of counterfeit pharmaceuticals to patients could be ending the practice of repacking at pharmacies, which would come at little, if no, extra cost to manufacturers.
Writing for Healthcare Packaging, Walter Berghahn, executive director of the Healthcare Compliance Packaging Council, said any 'true' serialisation effort must involve the patient as the end consumer.
The United States remains the only country to repackage at the pharmacy and this has "no place in our modern world of global manufacturing in state-of-the-art facilities with packaging that has been designed and tested to protect the specific product being carried to market".
"If we truly want end-to-end supply chain security, then the patient should receive the original manufacturer's container and have the ability, via smartphone or the Internet, to authenticate that 'yes, this container was manufactured by pharma company X and this is a real container'," he added.
The fact is that any anti-counterfeiting effort – whether it be investing in new technology or simply boosting industry coordination – should be seen as an investment, especially during times of budget restraints.
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