According to the WHO, in developing countries, every 10th drug is counterfeit. According to experts, from 10 to 30% of drugs sold in Ukraine are counterfeits. In particular, in 2019, Ukrainians bought 1.1 billion packages of medicines, respectively, on average, each of them consumed about 3 packages of counterfeit. Promote Ukraine asked experts about the problem of counterfeiting drugs in Ukraine.

Nataliya Guran expertNataliia Guran, Head of the NGO “Medicine Control”

In Ukraine, unregistered drugs, the origin of which is unknown, are most often found and there is a high probability of spoilage of drugs due to improper transportation and storage.

There is still a myth in our society that only expensive drugs are counterfeited. In fact, they also counterfeit the popular medicines that are in every home medicine cabinet. The use of counterfeit drugs is always deadly.

As a rule, counterfeit drugs:

– do not contain the active substance. When it comes to anxiety medications (cardiovascular, anti-hypertensive, anti-allergic), when every minute counts, counterfeiting can cost lives.

– contain a lower dosage of active substance. The disease becomes chronic, because the dose of the active substance is insufficient for treatment. When it comes to antibiotics, the use of such counterfeits develops resistance to antibiotics.

In the case of COVID-19, disinfection of hands and surfaces with alcohol, which contains, for example, not 96% but 20% alcohol, leads to human infection.

– contain another active substance. To save money, criminals replace the expensive active substance with a cheap facsimile, which, for example, can cause allergies and have a weaker therapeutic effect.

– contain additional substances. For example, to prevent the tablet from falling apart and having a good, shiny appearance, counterfeiters can add building mixes to counterfeits.

Today, in Ukraine, mobile application Medicine Control helps detect counterfeiting. It contains step-by-step instructions for testing drugs according to WHO recommendations. With the help of the application, you can check the registration of the drug in Ukraine and the presence of banned batches.

The aim of the project is to use IT to protect drug consumers from purchasing and consuming sub-standard drugs. This helps with the search for facsimiles of drugs so that everyone, regardless of wealth or trust in a particular manufacturer of drugs, is able to choose and agree with their doctor on the optimal treatment regimen.

Olena Polosmak expertOlena Polosmak, Managing Partner of Crane IP Law Firm

In general, the situation with the counterfeiting of medicines in Ukraine is not so critical. In the market of alcohol or perfumes, cosmetics it is worse. Counterfeits are of different types: the drug has no active substance; the content of the active substance is reduced; the active substance is replaced by an analogue or even another substance.

In the vast majority of cases, low-quality drugs are sold via the Internet. Such stores are unlicensed and entice buyers with lower prices or a range that official sellers do not have. Therefore, very often the buyers themselves are innocent in buying fakes. Taking care of your health is a person’s duty. The seller must request documents for the goods. Also, before buying, it is possible to independently check the registration data of the drug on the website of the State Medical Service.

If after the purchase the buyer suspected a forgery, they must contact law enforcement. For falsification of drugs, criminal liability is provided, with a maximum term of imprisonment of 8 years (Article 321 of the Criminal Code). Criminal liability is provided for the manufacture, sale, and transportation of counterfeit drugs.

Unfortunately, law enforcement officers rarely track down counterfeits on their own. They react to the request of affected customers or pharmaceutical companies whose products are counterfeited.

What are the main signs of counterfeiting? These are differences in the packaging of the original,: spelling errors, poor packaging material and application of paint, the shape of the original package (blister of the wrong shape, or it is noticeable that it was processed by hand), or differences in shape or colour of pills in one package.

In Ukraine, the introduction of digital labeling on drug packaging has been discussed for several years. A special bar code, or QR code, will allow you to see the entire path of this packaging from the factory to the consumer. Of course, counterfeit drugs will either not have such a code, or it will belong to another unit of production, which will be immediately detected by the inspection. Such control systems operate in the EU and have already been or are being implemented in the CIS countries.

Ukraine needs to adopt EU requirements and standards, and synchronise its labeling system with the EU. This will not only avoid drug shortages (if we introduce our own unique system, not all European manufacturers will set up production lines specifically for a smaller market, which is Ukraine), but also improve the situation with counterfeiting, and allow Ukraine to integrate faster into the EU.

Oleksandr Hmelevskij expertOleksandr Khmelevsky, Independent Expert

Falsification of medicines can occur directly at the plant when the manufacturing technology is violated, or the drug does not provide all the necessary components. In addition, in Ukraine there are many underground shops that manufacture counterfeits or change the date of manufacture of drugs so the expiration date has already passed.

They counterfeit both high-priced drugs and popular drugs, such as painkillers or antipyretics.

Ukraine has a three-tier quality control system for medicines. In particular, imported drugs are tested when they are imported into Ukraine, and the drugs must be checked by distributors and pharmacies. Pharmaceutical companies have an internal control system. However, the system is not effective and attackers often bypass it. Law enforcement officers periodically cover up underground laboratories.

It is very difficult to expose criminals and prove their guilt. From 2022, Ukraine will introduce mandatory labeling of all drugs using a unique 2-D code. This should complicate forgery. However, it will not solve the problem completely. Therefore, buyers can only rely on themselves. You should avoid buying medicines by hand or from advertisements on the Internet. It is better to buy drugs from trusted pharmacies.

Unfortunately, the authorities periodically impose a moratorium on business inspections. The inspection authorities must inform in advance that they are playing into the hands of fraudsters who have enough time to hide the traces of their crimes. Therefore, to protect the lives and health of citizens, the government must introduce tighter control over the pharmaceutical industry. Sudden inspections need to be resumed for both manufacturers and pharmacies that sell medicines.

Natalia Tolub

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