As of December 2015, around 920 suspected SSFFC (Substandard, Spurious, Falsely labelled, Falsified and Counterfeit) pharmaceutical products have been reported to the WHO (World Health Organization). However, this number is pretty low compared to the whole amount of counterfeit pills currently on the market. Dr. Jamie Barras, a researcher from Kings College London, made this statement:
”It’s like an iceberg. The visible part of the problem is the drugs that are detected, which can run into the millions of pills every year, but what we can’t see are the drugs that go undetected.”
Most counterfeit pills are sold on dark net marketplaces, however, the buyers do not know what they are buying, according to the research by Kings College.
”Drugs often go through several hands before they reach the consumer; this could be years after they are manufactured,” added Dr. Barras.
Also, the problem could be that most of the counterfeit pills are sold as original ones, however, they are not. This could cause several issues for the consumers of the substances.
Dr. Barras is also the technical manager of the EU-funded CONPHIRMER project, which developed a handheld scanner to detect counterfeit medical products. The scanner uses radio waves to record a digital fingerprint of the packages’ contents in customs or in post offices that are from suspicious medical companies. The project, led by Professor Kaspar Althoefer of King’s College London, can then compare the signatures with a database of legitimate pharmaceutical fingerprints, ”allowing for a better, non-invasive way to locate counterfeit drugs”. CONPHIRMER is planning to release its scanner when they are able to sign an agreement with a company. Dr. Barras also added this statement:
”There is always this question if there is a right to seize something. But if you can give a definitive answer to that, at the sorting office, or at a market stall somewhere in equatorial Africa, you can give (customs) the confidence to take action.”
Most counterfeit pills come from India and China where gangs are manufacturing them and sending them abroad to sell them. Criminals are also able to acquire legitimate products, then repackage and distribute them to consumers. Marco Musumeci, programme coordinator at UNICRI (United Nations Interregional Criminal and Justice Research Institute) in Italy, made these statements about the case:
”They (criminal organisations) are flooding the market with falsified medicines, exploiting the loopholes which exist in different regulations and legislations. They are extremely good at masking themselves behind a sort of smoke screen to appear as licit market operators which are, for instance, simply redistributing medicines from some place where there is too much supply and send it to some place where there is too much demand.
If they are producing illicit drugs like ecstasy pills then they have the machines to make other pills.
In terms of raw materials we know they use the cheapest, they don’t care about what they put into the product.
A variety of legitimate operators across the supply chain may be vulnerable to organised crime pressures. It’s not just a question of corruption but of the intimidating power.
In the EU, every operator should be checked, but in other countries, this may not be the case.”
Dr. Guggi Kofod, from the University of Potsdam who is the coordinator of the EU-funded ACfoil project that develops anti-counterfeiting hologram foils, made these statements:
”We can make unique products that are hard to replicate by counterfeiters. They demand a large investment so it would be very hard technologically and production-wise to match our holograms.”
If we could create a system with an unbroken chain of traceability, all the way from production to the end consumer, possibly via a scanning device or coding, and addressing repackaging, we put the power in the hands of the consumer, where it needs to be.”