From falsified Lipitor tablets to imitation Viagra and Cialis capsules, counterfeit pharmaceuticals are a €188 billion (US$200 billion) annual business, making them the largest segment of the €1.6 trillion in fraudulent goods sold worldwide every year. Even in the most secure markets in the world, it is estimated that at least 1 percent of all drugs in circulation are counterfeit. Authorities confiscated 4 million counterfeit tablets in 2015 in Germany alone. And in developing regions, such as Africa, the proportion of fake pharmaceuticals can rise to 70 percent.
Many of these ‘pirated drugs’ arrive from illegal online pharmacies based in remote corners of the world, beyond the reach of regulators. Digital channels allow criminals to elude security barriers designed for traditional drug distribution networks. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that 50 percent of drugs sold online are fraudulent.
The rising tide of counterfeit drugs reveals numerous gaps in governmental and industry efforts to safeguard global pharmaceutical supplies. Even the stricter security regulations taking effect in Europe and elsewhere are far from fool proof. Drug companies are spending billions of dollars every year to combat this growing threat to their bottom lines and public health.