False Profits

  • by: |
  • 09/10/2005

In 2006 the Center for Medicine in the Public Interest (www.cmpi.org), estimated that counterfeit drug commerce will grow 13% annually through 2010.  The CMPI study is cited by the WHO on its updated counterfeit pharmaceuticals fact sheet.

Counterfeit sales are increasing at nearly twice the rate of legitimate pharmaceutical sales and they are a money machine.  In 2010 CMPI estimates that fake drugs will generate $75 billion in revenues — a 92% increase from 2005.  And the risks of detection and prosecution are low.

Our original estimates were made based on conservative projections of counterfeit medicines manufacture and sales issued by the WHO, the FDA, the EU Commission and other global bodies. 

But we now feel these numbers are too low – because an entirely new criminal enterprise has emerged – counterfeit ingredients.  While counterfeit API (active pharmaceutical ingredient) isn’t a new issue, there is a new and frightening manifestation.  In the past, counterfeit API was purchased by criminals making counterfeit drugs.  Today a new, significantly more dangerous and difficult to fight enterprise is underway – the sale of counterfeit (“tainted”) ingredients to legitimate pharmaceutical manufacturers.  The most high profile example of this is the deadly case of Heparin.

It is impossible to believe that the case of Heparin was an unfortunate mistake – a quality lapse, a one-time and unique circumstance. The facts speak otherwise.  This was a case of fraud.  Criminal fraud.  So let’s call it by its proper name -- counterfeiting.

Counterfeit medicines, according to the WHO are “deliberately and fraudulently mislabeled with respect to identity or source. Counterfeiting occurs both with branded and generic products and counterfeit medicines may include products with the correct ingredients but fake packaging, with the wrong ingredients, without active ingredients or with insufficient active ingredients.”

It’s time to rethink and broaden that definition to include the potential for fake ingredients (“tainted” is both too polite and too inaccurate a term) that insidiously find their way into legitimate pharmaceutical manufacturing.

And, unfortunately, it means that CMPI must recalculate its global estimates for counterfeit medicines and their profits upwards.


Center for Medicine in the Public Interest is a nonprofit, non-partisan organization promoting innovative solutions that advance medical progress, reduce health disparities, extend life and make health care more affordable, preventive and patient-centered. CMPI also provides the public, policymakers and the media a reliable source of independent scientific analysis on issues ranging from personalized medicine, food and drug safety, health care reform and comparative effectiveness.

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