Counterfeiting Is Everyone’s Problem

A recent article in The New York Times points out how counterfeiters exploit the legitimate supply chain.
Published: January 23, 2008

Back on Dec. 17, 2007, The New York Times published an article detailing how counterfeit pharmaceuticals make their way into the legitimate supply chain. The article reported that authorities had found a cache of counterfeit drugs in a warehouse belonging to a company called Euro Gulf Trading. The warehouse was in a free trade zone in the United Arab Emirates (see A Toxic Pipeline: Counterfeit Drugs’ Path Eased by Free Trade Zones).

According to the article, an examination of the case revealed Euro Gulf’s “link to a complex supply chain of fake drugs that ran from China through Hong Kong, the United Arab Emirates, Britain and the Bahamas, ultimately leading to an Internet pharmacy whose American customers believed they were buying medicine from Canada.”

The Times report focused on the role of free trade zones, and how counterfeiters exploit them to hide where counterfeit drugs originated, or to “make, market or relabel adulterated products.” But what struck me about the article was just how global the counterfeiting business has become. Counterfeiting is not just Pfizer‘s problem, or Merck‘s. This is not an issue California can solve on its own with its pedigree law. Even the U.S. Food and Drug Administration can’t solve this issue alone.

To crack down on drug counterfeiters—and those who make knockoffs of designer jeans, sneakers, handbags and other luxury items—will take a coordinated global effort. Radio frequency identification could help. I’m not suggesting the United Nations issue an RFID mandate—but governments could begin to fund anti-counterfeiting projects and determine how e-pedigrees and auto-identification technologies could be used to track shipments and ensure their legitimacy. And they could begin discussions on possible global standards for identifying and authenticating international drug shipments.

Counterfeiting is everyone’s problem—whether you make an item valuable enough to be copied, or you buy such an item. And it’s the problem of any government that is supposed to protect the health of the public and uphold anti-counterfeiting laws. With the technology we have today—not just RFID, but 2-D bar codes, GPS and secure documents—it should be possible, if there is a coordinated global effort, to track shipments and do a much better job of preventing criminals from using the legitimate supply chain to sell their bogus wares. That’s what we should be aiming for.