Fake drugs are the type of medications that have been fraudulently altered and contain negligible amounts of active ingredients or none at all. The counterfeit drug industry is on a rise and is estimated to be a billion-dollar industry. This illegal trade affects both the consumer as well as legitimate sellers and it causes the loss of trust in healthcare, drugs, the pharmaceutical industry as well as drug manufacturers.
Counterfeiting is prevalent in areas where the drug laws and regulations are less rigid. The fake drug industry is booming in underdeveloped or developing countries such as Brazil.
There has been a significant increase in the seizures of fake medication in Brazil over the last decade. The National Agency for Sanitary Surveillance reports that most of the counterfeit drugs are for treating sexual impotence.
The Health Ministry has stated that at least sixty types of fake medications are being distributed in pharmacies and hospitals of Brazil. This number includes many popular painkillers and antibiotics. The National Secretariat of Health Inspection also reported that about five to seven percent of all the drugs sold in Brazil are fake.
The health industry of the country has been very reluctant to provide information regarding the counterfeit drugs as it may lead to financial losses, with buyers refusing products for fear of purchasing medication that has been altered or drug companies would have to recall products and suspend others. Manufacturers themselves do not directly deliver products to the retailers as these just spies up the prices.
According to a new study, drugs for erectile dysfunction and steroids are at the top of the list of counterfeited drugs confiscated in Brazil between the years 2007 to 2010. Other most popular products are two corticosteroids, testosterone esters, and nandrolone plus oxymetholone which together have counted for 26 percent seizures.
The study also showcased the pattern of fake drug distribution in the country. Most of the seizures take place in states of Santa Catarina, Parana, and Sao Paulo, all of them are located in the south of Brazil. The authors of the study suggest the whooping amount of seizures in these regions showcase the normal trade paths for fake medicines, specifically from Paraguay which they think has a much more informal supply chain with less regulatory oversight.
A 10-month-old infant in Brazil lost her life due to pneumonia and meningitis after the antibiotic she had been treated with, Trioxina, turned out to be counterfeit. A woman who was taking injections of Granulokine for brain cancer found out the ampuls held were made up of nothing but water.
A 77-year-old individual from Belo Horizonte died after suffering from prostate cancer for years. A little while before his death he discovered that the medication that he had been ingesting was made up of flour, not Andocur, the prescribed drug.
A company in Brazil called the Schering Company which is a subsidiary of a German Pharmaceutical giant conducted a test on its new packaging machine which is on its Microvlar production line.
Flour was replaced in the tests for the medication, one of Brazil’s most widespread, with 1.8 million users annually. After the testing ended, a huge lot of the packaged pills and other leftovers from the testing process were sent to an incinerator in order to be destroyed.
Police believe that sometime before the drugs left the lab, corrupt low-level Schering factory employees managed to tuck away a large number of boxes of the fakes.
Those boxes, discreetly marked as test packages, later went up for sale in pharmacies nearby Maua, which is a lower-middle-class industrial town near Sao Paulo, not far from where Carvalho lives.
Five suspects were reportedly held by police, but no one has any idea about how many packages of the sham pills were sold.
There has been evidence that even some of the packages made it to pharmacies and sparked an unpleasant battle between Brazilian health authorities and Schering. The company was then fined 2.5 million dollars and the company was also accused of bad faith as it waited about a month before notifying the authorities.
“We thought this was sabotage. We thought it was maybe just one case, we didn’t want to harm anyone and we hoped we could solve it,” Vanderloo stated. “Obviously this was a mistake.”