Counterfeit drugs is growing problem

March 29, 2008 12:27:07 AM PDT
Is your prescription medication real or could it be counterfeit? On Friday the U.S. Attorney General met with a group of technology industry leaders in the South Bay to highlight a growing problem with intellectual property theft, including counterfeit pharmaceuticals

New expensive medicines such as hormones, corticosteroids, cancer drugs, and Viagra are the most frequently counterfeited medications in industrialized countries. On Friday, the U.S. Attorney General sounded the alarm on a growing problem that he says threatens public safety.

"The huge profits that counterfeiting and piracy generate flow to organized crime -- criminal syndicates and in some cases even terrorist groups," said Michael Mukasey.

According to the World Health Organization, 10% of all medication globally is counterfeit. In Asia and Africa, it goes up to 50%. In many cases, the pharmaceutical packaging and the medication may look exactly like the real thing.

Drugs purchased from illegal internet pharmacies are the biggest concern, with some officials saying they're seeing a frightening amount of counterfeit pharmaceuticals.

"It could have come from a factory in Pakistan, China, India, where you're not getting what you paid for. It's manufactured under horrible unsanitary conditions and you're ingesting something into your body that you thinking is going to help you but quite frankly could do you a tremendous amount of harm," said Kevin Kozak from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

Silicon Valley companies are partnering with the government to combat this kind of counterfeiting.

Conformia, a software developer, is working with the F.D.A. to create an end to end traceability system.

"At the end of the day, when a patient is holding a drug and they're trying to figure out if this is real, they really need assistance from the FDA. So it involves the best of our regulatory agencies cooperating with other international agencies because some of the points of entry in our drug supply are coming from abroad," said Anjali Kataria, co-founder of Conformia.

The attorney general warned that the federal government is devoting more personnel to intellectual property or counterfeit crime, with 287 defendants convicted and sentenced last year-- a 92% increase from 2005. The government says U.S. companies lose $250 billion dollars a year because of counterfeit goods.