Medicines top counterfeit concern list in Europe – consumers call for tougher safety measures


London, 19 November 2009: Research published today examining consumer opinions on counterfeit drugs reveals that five per cent of consumers across five European countries suspect they have received a counterfeit prescription drug and an alarming one per cent believe they definitely have. This means that as many as 12.8 million consumers could have been exposed to fake drugs in those markets.

According to research carried out by ICM on behalf of patient safety communications company Aegate, awareness of the phony drugs market is moderate in Europe with 61 per cent saying they know prescription drugs can be faked. As a result, 79 per cent of consumers put medicine at the top of their counterfeit concern list, far ahead of any other product. Designer clothes and toys, which were the next concerns, fall far behind with four per cent each.

And it would seem their concern is justified. In December 2008, it was revealed that 34 million counterfeit pills were seized, valued at 89million Euros, by European Union customs officials between October and December 2008.

European consumers see the fake drugs trade to be largely the responsibility of medicine suppliers, with 45 per cent saying the manufacturer is responsible for the fake prescription medicine trade. They are not the only ones to be deemed liable though – 31 per cent say it’s the fault of the wholesaler and 30 per cent the pharmacist.

Worried about fake drugs finding their way into their hands, European consumers are calling for greater controls to be put in place. Eighty five per cent of consumers said they would feel more confident if medicine packs contained a safety feature that enabled the pharmacist to verify the medicine is genuine before dispensing.

In addition, 90 per cent said they would not buy drugs online if pharmacies in Europe had a tool to authenticate prescription drugs – a particularly reassuring number in light of data published by the EAASM (European Alliance for Access to Safe Medicines) that 62 per cent of drugs bought online are fake or substandard.

Consumers feel very strongly about the drug counterfeiting trade. Over two thirds stated that the penalty for counterfeiting medicines should be between five and 15 years in prison, despite the current penalties being far lower – while a fifth feel life in prison is justified.

However, despite consumers’ desire for justice and their understanding of the very real dangers of fake medicines, their response in terms of what they would do if they thought they had a counterfeit is extremely variable. Fifty-five percent of consumers said they would either throw away a suspect counterfeit drug unreported, research it on the internet, talk to family and friends or call a local newspaper. On average only 40 per cent would call their pharmacist, the police or their doctor.

“It is very different buying medication online to buying an item of clothing” commented Gary Noon, CEO, Aegate. “Patients need to be encouraged to seek medicines from their high street pharmacist who is trained and qualified to assess their medical needs as well as the medicine. Patient safety should be the industry’s priority from the regulator, to the manufacturer and to the pharmacist and it is clear we need to ensure the pharmacist has the right tools in place to carry out such an important task.”

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