There is no system to help prioritize anti-counterfeiting efforts. Some drugs are at a high risk. Authorities feel high-priced injectables and HIV drugs are considered to be at high risk. Although many players are interested in policing and stopping counterfeiting, they have different agendas. It is important to give each drug or class of drugs some attention.

Counterfeit medicines are recognized throughout the world as posing a serious public health risk, and as a result in 2002 security directors from 14 major international pharmaceutical companies founded the Pharmaceutical Security Institute (PSI) to develop strategies to fight counterfeiting and ensure public safety.

In 2006 the WHO launched its International Medical Products Anti-Counterfeiting Taskforce (IMPACT), which has brought together the WHO, Interpol, the pharmaceutical industry, and NGOs in the fight against counterfeit drugs. Since then it has been seeking international collaboration to the growing dangers of counterfeit medicines.

Unfortunately IMPACT has been less effective than hoped, especially because it initially included generic medicines alongside counterfeits, but this was corrected in 2008, when all mention of patents was removed from their definition.

An increasing number and variety of tools is also becoming available to customs officers and others. They include RFID devices, and a system of printing cryptographic files onto packaging to allow packages to be authenticated. The latter system was developed by a Spanish company, Cartonplex.

In another new development, phone manufacturer Nokia, software specialists SAP, and smartcard experts Giesecke & Devrient announced recently they plan to set up a joint venture by the end of 2009 to develop tamper-proof packaging that incorporates anti-counterfeiting technologies originally developed for banknotes and smartcards. The authentication technology will be carried in a smartphone.

How to recognize and avoid counterfeit drugs

It can be virtually impossible to recognize the best counterfeits because to the naked eye the medicine and packaging look identical to the genuine article. If counterfeits are produced by amateurs they may be easier to spot through grammatical or spelling errors on the packaging, but amateurs are becoming a rarity.

You can ensure your own medicines are not counterfeit by buying them only from state-licensed pharmacies in the US, since the quality of their prescription drugs and their packaging and distribution is assured by the FDA and state authorities.

If you are purchasing from websites, make sure the online pharmacy is properly licensed and has a physical address and phone contact details. A genuine site located in the US or Canada will show a VIPPS (Verified Internet Pharmacy Practice Sites Accreditation Program) seal to indicate it is accredited by the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy. Be aware that an estimated 50% of drugs supplied by unlicensed websites are counterfeit, so be extremely careful.

There is no system to help prioritize anti-counterfeiting activities. Some drugs are at a higher risk for counterfeiting. Law enforcement professionals feel high-priced injectables and HIV drugs are considered to be at high risk. Although many players are interested in policing and stopping counterfeiting, they have different priorities. It is impractical to give each drug or class of drugs the same attention.

Counterfeiting of medicines is a serious crime, and we can all help to stamp it out and protect ourselves from counterfeits by simply being aware of the possibility of counterfeiting. Pay attention to the effects and side-effects of any medicines you are taking, and always report anything suspicious or unusual.