A new report published by the major French drugmaker Sanofi attempts to show the perceptions of falsified medicines around the world, with warnings for governments and regulators on work still needing to be done tackling online illicit drug sales.
In the Sanofi report, the authors say that their analysis of fake medicine perceptions in different parts of the world shows that "many improvements around awareness raising have been made in the past years," but adds that it also "rings the alarm bell around online pharmacies."
Sanofi, like all major pharmaceutical companies, has to deal with loss revenue from nefarious groups or other agencies selling illegal or falsified versions of its medicines (which includes cancer and diabetes drugs), with the inherent patient safety risk attached of taking the wrong medication, or none at all if the active ingredient is removed.
Since 2008, when it opened its fake drugs testing lab, the company has been proactively trying to seek out this illicit meds, analyzing over 35,000 to date.
In this latest report, Sanofi said the problem is spreading, and becoming increasingly lucrative: An outlay of just $1,000 can lead to returns of up to $500,000, while for the same investment, heroine and counterfeit currency would bring in $20,000.
"Additionally, the Internet is significantly promoting the development of fake pharmacies online. The derisory level of penalties imposed upon counterfeiters is an additional factor in the development of this criminal activity," the authors note.
But it says that, at the international level, things tend to be on the move, and makes special mention of Europe's MEDICRIME Convention, the first international legal instrument that criminalizes all activities related to counterfeiting, production and distribution.
It adds, however, that "there is still a lot left to be done," and this was shown up by its survey. In Latin America, a questionnaire was filled out by over 7,000 people, and 59 per cent of interviewees associate counterfeiting and drugs, far ahead of fashion brands electronic products.
But the survey threw up significant disparities, notably Brazilians, who are only 32 per cent to spontaneously make this association, and cite more easily fashion brands, luxury products and electronics counterfeiting.
And in response to the question 'Have you ever heard of it', 'Have you ever seen some' and 'Do you think you have enough information not to be exposed to counterfeit medicines', trends emerge/are confirmed: Brazilians seem to be the least exposed and informed respondents, whereas Peruvians are the savviest: 98 per cent have already heard about it (91 per cent on average of the 7 countries), 60 per cent have already seen counterfeit drugs (35 per cent on average) and 19 per cent say they have enough information on the subject (13 per cent on average).
And 62 per cent of respondents consider that counterfeit medicines are definitely dangerous and 36 per cent that they can be dangerous.
In all Latin American countries, it is the possibility of saving time that is placed at the top of the probable motivations of online shopping, in the face of being able to make savings.
An average of 27 per cent of respondents have already purchased drugs online. The Argentinians are at the bottom of the rankings, with only 11 per cent, while Brazilians declare a much more widespread practice, since they are 48 per cent to have already bought online.
In Asia, 4,000 of those surveyed showed that Thailand and Malaysia had the highest scores with over 70 per cent of respondents buying meds online, while Vietnam, China and the Philippines appear to be the three countries that most clearly associate counterfeiting with medicines, virtually on a par with apparel and luxury products.
In the US, 54 per cent of 1,500 people polled felt that counterfeit medicines were definitely dangerous, while 40 per cent felt the danger was potential. A huge majority (82 per cent) feel they have never been exposed to counterfeit medicines.
In Europe, where pollsters surveyed around 5,000 people, the perception of the danger of counterfeit medicines was highest on the continent, at 96 per cent. Two-thirds of Europeans have already heard about counterfeit medicines, but only 47 per cent think that a counterfeit drug presents a definite danger.
Only 18 per cent of Europeans have ever purchased medicines online of whom 78 per cent felt perfectly confident about doing so.