When we say production of illicit drugs, the first thing that comes to mind is a dilapidated building hidden on the suburbs of a busy city center, guarded by hoodlums and shady and large characters sketched out of an action movie. Believe it or not, this mental picture also exists in reality, up to the rusty and damaged workplace.
A vivid picture depicting the same scenes in an action film have been realized when World Health Organization (WHO), along with The Peterson Group and with the assistance of local police has taken down an illegal production of substandard medicines in the town of Menteng in Jakarta, Indonesia. In the said ambush operation, three people were arrested who later became witnesses against the illegal group financing the illicit practice. Unfortunately, one of the star witnesses were involved in a prison war and was killed a day before the trial. It is yet to be decided if his death has anything to do with his decision to assist the authorities in exchange for a lighter sentence. The case is still under an ongoing investigation.
There are also times when reality is entirely different from the movies.
According to reviews, contrary to expectations that counterfeit or falsified medicines in Asia are bought from street contacts or unlicensed vendors, as may have been the case in the past, counterfeit medicines are beginning to be discovered in the legal supply chain, that is, through licensed wholesalers and parallel traders. This practice has started since the start of the 20th century when fraud practices have innovated techniques to infiltrate unsuspecting small pharmacies. Later, while the attention was focused on black and fly-by-night markets, counterfeiters eventually penetrated trusted and reliable pharmacies, clinics and hospitals.
In 1997, samples of chloroquine, amoxicillin, tetracycline, cotrimoxazole and ampiclox were collected from several regulated Thai pharmacies. These were then analyzed using high performance liquid chromatography (HPLC). Results showed 40% of samples had active ingredients outside the British Pharmacopoeia limits.
The rapid advances of technology have enabled drug counterfeiters to perfectly mimic the original down to the last bar code. The fake copies were so perfect that new devices were even innovated just to identify the differences. Moreover, increasing access to internet coupled with new methods of advertising such as those underground television commercials, radio stations and newspapers have created new challenges for safeguarding medicines.
Drug counterfeiting trade is significant especially in Asia but the real numbers remain vague as the real impact is still immeasurable.