Cracking Down on Counterfeits

Criminals can make upwards of $450,000 off the production and sale of counterfeit medicines with just $1,000 in seed money, more than 20 times the profit made from selling heroin with the same investment.

These startling figures, compiled by Interpol, were cited in a recent article about Pfizer’s efforts to combat the proliferation of counterfeit medicines. The manufacturer of Viagra, one of the most copied drugs, has hired a team of former law enforcement officials to track down counterfeiters in order for Pfizer to bring the producers of fake drugs to civil court rather than relying on local authorities and criminal courts to find them and prosecute. According to Simeon Bennett of Bloomberg Businessweek:

“Since 2007, Pfizer has spent $3.3 million on investigations and legal fees and recovered about $5.1 million. It expects to collect an additional $5.3 million from ongoing cases. Pfizer says it has prevented about 58 million counterfeit pills from reaching patients since 2004.”

The trade in counterfeit medicines has skyrocketed in recent years. According the Markmonitor, a firm that works with companies on brand protection, sales of counterfeit goods via the internet will reach $135 billion this year. Weakening of IP rights not only is detrimental to the economy, but also puts the public’s health and safety at risk. The WHO estimates that counterfeit drugs constitute up to 25% of the total medicine supply in less developed countries. These medicines could either contain no active ingredients, very little active ingredients that will do nothing to fight the disease and may even make it more resistant to treatment, or in the worst case scenario the counterfeit could contain toxic materials. The International Policy Network estimates that around 700,000 deaths per year from only malaria and tuberculosis are attributable to fake drugs.

This move by Pfizer is welcome not only because the company is taking proactive steps to protect its brand but also its customers who risk being harmed from substandard drugs.