Tuesday, January 10, 2006

UK TV Program Exposes Problem of Fake Drugs

An investigative report by the UK's ITV which ran on 9th Jan used investigative reporting techniques to expose just how easy it is to infiltrate fake drugs into the UK's retail and hospital supply chain.

IS YOUR MEDICINE FAKE? A TONIGHT SPECIAL: Fiona Foster presents a report on the illegal market for counterfeit drugs. She investigates how potentially dangerous forms of medicine can enter the supply chain for the NHS - and even be sold in high-street pharmacies. (ITV1, 8pm)

In July 2005, the UK's BBC had run a similar program on Fake Drugs. Both referred to the discovery of a fake Viagra plant running in a warehouse in a London suburb.

What made the ITV program unusual was the successful, and purposefully deceitful, application for a wholesale drug license from the MHRA using fake identities and a rented office space. The MHRA immediately responded with a press release, indicating that it was within its rights to investigate the ITV programmers for making a false application. The program probably villified the MHRA unfairly, and the 'made-for-television' sting with hidden-cameras and disguised faces smacked of grandstanding. However, the problem is real - and the program demonstrated to a comfortably-numb TV audience how pervasive it could be.

Especially telling, was the number of times middle-men and patients said they looked at the packaging - even had it 'inspected' - and figured it was authentic. Only when one patient went online to find out which lot numbers of Lipitor had been counterfeit, did she go to her doctor. A better system which allows users to differentiate between real and fake by looking at the packaging is required - one which can be more proactive and informative than holograms or security inks.