Monday, September 27, 2009, Rockville, Md. — Counterfeit and adulterated food and drugs and advances in measurement science used to detect them emerged as key themes of the Annual Scientific Meeting (ASM) hosted by the U.S. Pharmacopeial (USP) Convention. Held in Toronto, Canada, more than 300 people from 26 countries attended, making this a truly multinational event. Experts from all countries need to grapple with the worldwide proliferation of fakes — notably manifest in drugs sold over the internet — and presentations highlighted the many efforts being made to combat the problem.
The meeting was opened by speakers from Health Canada who described the extensive activities of the Health Products and Food Branch to protect Canadian public health. Canada’s Institute for Measurement Standards and others discussed measurement science as a key tool for helping to ensure the quality of food and drugs. The international manufacturing community was well represented, closely allying with compendial and regulatory organizations in the common goal of assuring consumers that the medicines they take and the foods they eat are of good quality.
Means to counter the serious and growing counterfeit problem reviewed at the ASM included sophisticated quality measurement techniques and technologies; multinational investigative and research efforts, which are increasingly being better coordinated; and attempts to educate and involve consumers and patients in vigilance and reporting. While many Americans are unaware of counterfeit drugs or view them as a problem of the developing world, this is not the case. Food and drug ingredients are shipped and sold worldwide from every continent except Antarctica. And counterfeiting can be economically compelling ? the profit margin on fake Viagra was estimated to be 2,000 times that for cocaine, which attracts both organized crime and opportunistic criminals.
Many people believe that buying prescription drugs from online pharmacies calling themselves “Canadian” is safer, but it is in fact risky business; the search term “Canadian pharmacy” is one of the world’s biggest spam generators. There are more than 11,000 such sites, and of these only about 214 are actually registered in Canada. Presentations demonstrating the counterfeiters’ complete disregard for human health included pictures of a cement mixer in Turkey that had also been used to mix counterfeit versions of drugs ? e.g., Viagra®, Plavix®, and other widely prescribed medications ? without having been cleaned. In a study of about 100 online “pharmacies” conducted by the European Alliance for Access to Safe Medicines, 98% had no pharmacist associated with them; 90% required no prescription for prescription medications; 95.5% were not registered with any official pharmacy board; and while one in five boasted an “official” seal of approval, 85% of those seals were fake.
“As supply chains for drugs and foods have become increasingly global,” said Roger L. Williams, M.D., USP’s chief executive officer, “it has become more urgent for experts from around the world to pool their best thinking on how to protect people in all countries. I’ve been impressed and gratified by the level of discourse that has taken place at this year’s ASM. As we all go home to our respective countries and responsibilities, it will be very interesting to see the many ideas articulated this week play out into programs and policies over time.”
Videos of some of the speakers at the ASM are on www.youtube.com/uspharmacopeia, and speaker presentation materials will be available on www.usp.org shortly. Follow USP on Twitter at www.twitter.com/uspharmacopeia.
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The United States Pharmacopeial (USP) Convention is a scientific, nonprofit, standards-setting organization that advances public health through public standards and related programs that help ensure the quality, safety, and benefit of medicines and foods. USP’s standards are recognized and used worldwide. For more information about USP visit http://www.usp.org. FY1009