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Counterfeit Pharmaceuticals and the Public Health
Supporters of legalizing U.S. prescription drug importation have largely shrugged off safety concerns about counterfeit and dangerous drugs as an industry ploy. They have pointed to Europe as one example of how drug importation can be made both safe and legal. However, there is mounting evidence that counterfeit drug sales are a global problem that is fast making inroads in the U.S.:
EARLIER THIS YEAR, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration concluded Operation Cyber Chase, a year-long investigation that dismantled the world's largest online counterfeit prescription drug ring. The sting shut down 200 illegal e-pharmacies and shed light on one of the world's most prolific, sophisticated and rapidly growing black market industries. In a recent study, the World Health Organization determined global sales of counterfeit drugs to be $32 billion in 2003 -- 10% of all medicines sold worldwide. The trend is spurred by lucrative opportunities, virtually anonymous distribution channels and price-driven consumer demand. It not only costs the pharmaceutical industry about $46 billion a year but endangers the lives of millions of people.
Although counterfeit drugs are most prevalent in developing countries, recent reports indicate an influx of counterfeit drugs in the U.S. Experts at the Partnership for Safe Medicines say Americans are increasingly likely to encounter fake medication due to a combination of more sophisticated criminal activity and border security overwhelmed by throngs of illegal drug traffic. The Pharmaceutical Security Institute reported that the value of seized, counterfeit and diverted drugs in the United States alone was almost $200 million in 2003, a sevenfold increase from the previous year.
Importation advocates need to address this evidence and explain how the FDA can ensure the safety of the nationís drug supply without administrative costs eating up any planned savings.
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