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20 February 2014

Combating pharmaceutical crime requires strong collaboration, says INTERPOL Chief

Criminal networks involved in counterfeiting medicines seek profits at high risk to patients


CONCORD, USA – Worldwide regulations and partnerships between law enforcement and the private sector are key to stemming the flow of fake and counterfeit medicines, as well as other forms of pharmaceutical crime, INTERPOL Secretary General Ronald K. Noble has advised a conference at the University of New Hampshire School of Law.

Delivering the keynote address at a symposium focusing on the global problem of counterfeit pharmaceuticals, Mr Noble emphasized the growing dangers posed by the manufacture, sale and distribution of fake or illicit medicines, particularly in developing countries where the average citizen often cannot afford genuine products.

The INTERPOL Chief said transnational organized crime networks involved in counterfeiting medicines and pharmaceutical products are so focused on making an profit that they turn a blind eye to the health risks this presents to unsuspecting consumers.

“For INTERPOL, the daily challenge we confront in helping our 190 member countries fight medical product counterfeiting and pharmaceutical crime is overwhelming at times, as the opportunities for criminals to profit from the sale of fake, counterfeit or illicit medicines and pharmaceutical products are huge,” said Secretary General Noble.

In response, in 2013 INTERPOL entered into an agreement with a group of some 30 of the world’s largest pharmaceutical companies to enhance cooperation between law enforcement and the private sector in combating pharmaceutical crime.

“Despite the successes we have had, we know that the problem of medical product counterfeiting and pharmaceutical crime cannot be dealt with by law enforcement alone. We therefore need to continue forging strong partnerships with the drug manufacturers, both brand name and generic drug manufacturers,” said the INTERPOL Chief.

Highlighting the positive outcomes of collaborative health and security efforts to fight pharmaceutical crime, Mr Noble pointed to Operation Pangea, an annual global operation targeting online sales of fake or illicit medicines. In 2013, police, customs, drug regulatory authorities, international organizations and private sector partners from some 100 countries participated in Operation Pangea VI, which saw the seizure of 9.8 million potentially dangerous medicines worth USD 41 million and more than 13,700 illicit websites shut down.

Nonetheless, Secretary General Noble said the transnational criminal groups behind the trafficking of illicit pharmaceutical products will continue their activities unless a comprehensive global regulatory system is developed.

“Even when adequate regulations exist at the national level, they present problems when one tries to enforce them across national borders where different countries have different laws, or even no laws, concerning medicines.

“Unless laws are harmonized and unless there are no gaps in regulatory and enforcement schemes globally, criminals will exploit these gaps at their weakest points,” he said.

The INTERPOL Chief drew attention to I-Checkit, an INTERPOL pilot project which will assist citizens in determining the authenticity of medicines and other products before making a purchase, by scanning a code on the item to check it against information provided by the manufacturer.

Mr Noble added that I-Checkit would empower citizens by giving them ‘the choice, the freedom to know whether what they are buying is genuine or not’.

Sponsored by the University of New Hampshire School of Law’s Franklin Pierce Center for Intellectual Property and Johnson & Johnson, the symposium addressed public health perspectives, industry approaches and legal issues related to pharmaceutical crime.