A study on transnational crime from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime found that the highest incidence of “falsified medicines” among Southeast Asian countries come from the Philippines.
Of 460 incidents of counterfeiting and illegal distribution of pharmaceutical products recorded within the region from 2013 to 2017, 193 occurred in the Philippines. Comparatively, 110 occurred in Thailand, 93 in Indonesia, and 49 in Vietnam.
Most of these counterfeit medicines were for urinary tract infection, erectile dysfunction, anti-infectives, and central nervous system (CNS). Meanwhile, nutrition supplements, cadiovascular, CNS, and metabolism drugs were among the most illegally distributed.
The UN study defined “falsified medicines” as pharmaceutical products “marketed with the intention to deceive buyers.” These could be misbranded, falsely labeled, or expired; may contain too little, too much, or none of its purported active ingredient.
As per the UN study, these products are ineffective, may be harmful or even deadly.
Pakistan, India and China are the leading sources of falsified medicines that end up in the Philippines through organized criminal networks.
The Philippines itself was the source in 12 incidents of either falsified or illegally distributed medicines in the US, Japan and Germany.
The report – titled “Transnational Organized Crime in Southeast Asia: Evolution, Growth and Impact” – noted that international criminal organizations may have earned as much as $2 billion from trafficking falsified medicines in the Philippines in 2014.
To solve the problem, the UN report recommended cross-border cooperation among countries. It warned against hastily tightening laws as this may only divert the illicit trade toward more vulnerable areas. The study similarly stated that countries in the Southeast Asian region must boost the legitimate trade in pharmaceuticals and make genuine medicines more available and affordable.