Europe's wholesalers show 'zero tolerance' on fake drugs

By Gregory Roumeliotis

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Supply chain Pharmacy Marketing Counterfeit

The European Association of Pharmaceutical Full-line Wholesalers
(GIRP) has outlined measures it is taking to keep counterfeit
medicines out of the legitimate supply chain while urging
pharmaceutical manufacturers and pharmacists to do more together to
address the issue.

The business of selling fake drugs is a burgeoning global industry, estimated to grow 13 per cent a year to reach $75bn (€62bn) in 2010, compared to just 7.5 per cent estimated annual growth for global pharmaceutical commerce, according to market research analysts Gartner and Frost & Sullivan.

However, GIRP pointed out that even if all necessary action was taken to secure the supply chain from counterfeits, there are hundreds of thousands of uncertified sources from which to acquire medicinal products, particularly through internet and mail order sales, which are impossible to control and pose the greatest risk for fake drugs entering the market.

Furthermore, the association highlighted the responsibility of manufacturers, which, it said, create a 'spot market' for medicines by often selling to other traders large quantities of products at prices far below the wholesalers purchase price, impose supply quota systems on wholesalers that create unnecessary shortages on the market and do not always pass on the knowledge of counterfeit drugs they detect to wholesalers.

Yet GIRP, an umbrella organisation representing the national associations of over 600 pharmaceutical full-line wholesalers in Europe, still has a major role to play since it links about 3,500 manufacturers with over 133,000 pharmacists.

It says its members are implementing a series of strategies to improve the supply chain, including carefully selecting suppliers, fully training their staff in good distribution practices (GDP), streamlining recall procedures and increasing transparency.

Nevertheless, GIRP still appears reluctant to embrace radio frequency identification (RFID) technology, claiming that a uniformed track and trace system for Europe still lacks the affordable, well proofed and effective technology which would allow for the implementation of a seamless track and trace procedure throughout the supply chain without resulting either in sky rocketing costs or unacceptable delays for pharmacies and patients.

Currently, available RFID technology is still too expensive for mass implementation across the entire supply chain, leaving products exposed to tampering and counterfeiting.

Despite this, spending on worldwide RFID track-and-trace technology in general has jumped up 40 per cent from 2004 to reach over $500m worldwide in 2005, and will accelerate in late 2006 and 2007 to reach over $750m, while, as industries realise the enormous potential of this technology, worldwide RFID spending is set to surpass $3bn in 2010, according to market research firm Gartner.

"GIRP believes that RFID has high potential but to ensure that no delays occur in meeting the pharmacies' orders, GIRP members must ensure that RFID runs smoothly first,"​ Monika Derecque-Pois, GIRP Secretary General, told​.

"The necessary legislation is in place so member states must ensure that the law is properly enforced, especially with respect to health care professionals and distributors buying and selling medicines from certified sources only.

"It is also up to the member states to implement the good delivery practice (GDP) guidelines; some member states implement the GDP guidelines stringently, while others do so less stringently."

At the moment however, the best way to avoid the risk of counterfeits in the supply chain according to GIRP is to develop and maintain a close, interlinked, collaborative information system involving health authorities, manufacturers and all partners of the supply chain.

The regulation of the internet and mail order pharmacies and the dissemination of information to consumers that they risk their health in buying unsafe medicines over the internet should be the top priority now, the GIRP says.

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