Diabetes developments – by Simon O’Neill

In a regular blog series, Simon O’Neill, Diabetes UK’s Director of Health Intelligence and Professional Liaison, rounds up the latest diabetes news.

This week Simon talks about counterfeit medicines.

Counterfeit Medicines

A report from the European Union Intellectual Property Office (EUIPO) has shown that sales of counterfeit drugs costs the pharmaceutical industry €10.2 million annually across the EU, affecting 4.4 per cent of all drugs sold in the sector. This rise in “pharmaceutical piracy” came as a surprise, just because of the scale of the problem.

Counterfeits affect all types of medicines, both generic (which any company can manufacture) and medicines still protected by patents (which should only be manufactured by the company that developed them). The study found examples of all types of medicines being faked, from specialized cancer treatments down to inexpensive pain killers.

The UK is not immune, with an estimated 3.3 per cent of all drugs sold being fakes, costing the sector €605M.

So should people taking medicines be worried? The industry is, as this level of fraud is estimated to lead to an overall loss of 37,700 jobs in the industry. However, for patients, the issue is less clear as drugs can be classed as fake for a number of reasons, according to the World Health Organization.

Counterfeit medicines include those which are deliberately and fraudulently mislabeled with respect to what the drug is and where it comes from and may include products with the correct ingredients, with the wrong ingredients, without active ingredients, with insufficient or inadequate quantities of ingredients or with fake packaging. And the study suggests that 96.7 per cent of all drugs available in the UK are the real thing.

As with all good fakes, it is virtually impossible for someone to tell whether they have the legitimate product – and even a fake may still be an effective medicine, if it is only the labeling that is fraudulent. The EU has set up anti-trafficking units in countries where fake drug trafficking originates to try and stop the problem. But as with any medicine, if it doesn’t seem to be having its usual effect, you should talk to your diabetes team and perhaps try a different batch.

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