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Drug Companies Attack Fake Medicine

Pharmaceutical industry representatives Tuesday unveiled a variety of new measures to tackle counterfeit in Lebanon, and gave severe warnings over the dangers of their use by the public.

“Counterfeit medicine is a silent killer, and the people distributing it are criminals,” said Ziad Nassour, President of the Order of Pharmacists. “It is very important for us to protect people from this,” he added.

The majority of these counterfeit products are manufactured in China, South Korea and the US, where they are then smuggled into Lebanon, often in highly questionable storage conditions, and passed off as authentic medicines.

Counterfeit medicines present a clear danger to patients as they are often missing active ingredients, leaving the patient without the necessary treatment for their condition, said Nassour.

“The package of a counterfeit product can be very similar to the original medicine from the outside, but inside the composition is very different, the product has no active principle ingredients or contains other, potentially harmful substances,” he said, adding that while Lebanon has a low percentage of counterfeit medicines, one box is too many.

Nassour spoke of one example where a cancer medicine seized in Lebanon was found to contain only water. On another occasion, an anti-cholesterol medicine was found to contain added ingredients.

Fady Koussa, Head of a Regulatory Department for a pharmaceutical firm , revealed details of a new hologram sticker to be put on all his company’s products to protect against counterfeiting.

“The company has started to develop a new technique called security label to better protect products and contribute to the fight against counterfeiting,” he said.

Nassour explained how to detect a counterfeit medicine.

“The patient should ask questions, they should never accept to take medicine which is not in its package and they should also look for the 3D hologram on the box,” he said.

Marwan Hakim, a representative of the Lebanese Association for Drug Importers, noted the difficulty in preventing the smuggling of counterfeit drugs into Lebanon.

“Smuggling and dealing with counterfeit products is difficult, by definition, since they come [outside] of the legal importation and trade circuits. It may also be done locally by gangs,” he said.

Nassour argued that raising public awareness was the effective way to combat the smuggling of counterfeit medicines, because those bringing them in are “above the law.”

When questioned as to who is bringing in the medicine, and who might be protecting them, Nassour did not speculate. He did, however, note that little action had been taken.

“All I know is that in 2008 the Ministry of Health had 88 files on smuggling groups and individuals, and I haven’t seen 88 people put in jail.” He added that this was not only a problem for the Health Ministry, but for the whole country.

Nassour urged harsher punishment for sellers of counterfeit medicines, the creation of a central laboratory to analyze medicine being sold in Lebanon and the placing of pharmacists in hospitals and in customs.

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