Pharmaceutical crime: news in brief

Globe with capsulesUS drug diverters plead guilty, fake medicines in decline in East Africa, online pharmacy trouble in the US and China and organised crime link to Herceptin heist.

A Texas couple have pleaded guilty to operating a $60m prescription drug diversion scam which netted some $14m in illicit profits between 2006 and 2009. Charles Jeffrey Edwards and Brenda Elise Edwards admitted to buying prescription drugs from unlicensed individuals and entities that were resold to pharmacies by the couple's Cumberland Distribution company. The illicit medicines included treatments for HIV/AIDS, antipsychotics, antidepressants, and drugs to treat acid reflux, high blood pressure and diabetes. The couple are due to be sentenced in November, and face fines of up to $500,000 as well as jail time.

The circulation of falsified and substandard medicines in East Africa seems to be one the wane, according to the Kenya-based Mission for Essential Drugs & Supplies (MEDS). MEDS is a distributor of drugs and medical supplies, and says the failure rate has declined from around 13 per cent in 1997 to just 1 per cent last year. The organisation bases its estimate on analyses carried out at a World Health Organization (WHO) prequalified laboratory it operates in Nairobi, which tests around 50 medicine samples a month from Kenya as well as Chad, Sudan, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Cameroon, Democratic Republic of Congo, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia, Madagascar, Rwanda and Burundi, according to a report.

The China Food and Drug Administration (CFDA) has reiterated warnings to the public not to buy medicines from online sources, saying that a study carried out by the local Shenzhen authority revealed that 75 per cent of drugs sold in this way are falsified. Chinese consumers are tempted to purchase medicines online that have been approved in the US and Europe but are not yet licensed in China, according to Zhi Xiuyi of the Capital Medical University in Beijing, who said the country should speed up licensing of cancer drugs and implement measures to make new drugs more affordable, according to

The Maine Board of Pharmacy voted unanimously this month to instruct the State Attorney General to issue a cease-and-desist letter to, and launch a formal investigation of, Canada Drug Center, an Internet pharmacy that has allegedly been selling drugs from unapproved countries in contravention of state law. Legislation passed last November allows residents to order drugs from overseas, but only when they have been sourced from Canada, the UK, Northern Ireland, Australia, and New Zealand. The action was taken after the pharmacy allegedly supplied medicines sourced from Turkey, India, and Mauritius. The Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) has filed a federal lawsuit alongside other organisations to overturn the law, on the grounds that importing pharmaceuticals can be hazardous and contravenes US federal legislation.

Reports have linked the Camorra organised crime syndicate to the recent theft of Roche's breast cancer drug Herceptin (trastuzumab) and its subsequent falsification and introduction into supply chains in the UK, Germany and Finland. Domenico Di Giorgio, director for the prevention of counterfeiting at the Italian Medicines Agency (AIFA), is cited in a number of newswires as suggesting the Italian mafia - with links to organised crime syndicates in Romania and Cyprus - is involved in stealing medicines to order and distributing them across Europe. It has emerged that some of the Herceptin vials were diluted and others had their contents swapped for antibiotics.

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