There is a story which may have escaped your attention today, but it is an important one. Interpol, the organisation which brings together police forces from around the world to fight crime, announced a major new initiative to fight the growing threat of counterfeit medicines.
Counterfeit medicines have long been a problem, but unfortunately the problem has been getting worse in recent years, not better. Supported by major criminal networks, medicines with no effect, or are actively harmful, are increasingly finding their way to patients across the world. In one particularly tragic case just last year, 109 patients in Pakistan died after taking a counterfeit medicine. Fortunately, the UK has largely escaped these terrible incidents but there are a number of instances where counterfeit medicines have been sold here and it is likely that we will see this happening more and more.
Today’s initiative, will see €4.5m invested to create the Pharmaceutical Industry Initiative to Combat Crime (PIICC). The initiative, largely funded by pharmaceutical companies, will see investigative work into pharmaceutical crime, intensify enforcement operations, capacity building, and develop collaborations to raise awareness of pharmaceutical crimes.
I am delighted to see concrete action being taken to tackle this scourge – and this important work will undoubtedly save lives.
But the fight against counterfeit medicines is not just about catching criminals, it also means tightening regulations so we know for sure the products we use are genuine, innovative medicines. That is why in 2011 the European Commission introduced the Falsified Medicines Directive (FMD) so a system could be created to better track and authenticate medicines as they move through the supply chain and reach patients. In practice, this means using things like using 2D barcodes to check medicines are real. We urgently need all stakeholders and the government to give their full backing to its implementation, at the earliest opportunity. A failure to do so will not only compromise today’s initiative but put patients at the real risk of harm.