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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Ministry Forming Agency to Fight Fake Pills

MTChristoph Zimmerman, an EU expert, showing pirated medicine to forum attendees.
The Health Ministry is hastily piecing together a government agency with vast but yet-to-be-defined powers to ward off a flood of counterfeit drugs expected to hit the market after VAT is added to medicine sales at the start of next year.

"We have very little time, but we are very determined," said Alexander Toporkov, deputy head of the ministry's department of state control of drugs and medical devices.

Toporkov told a conference on fighting counterfeit drugs that while the Russian pharmaceutical market is still largely transparent, there is a looming threat of a surge in counterfeit drugs due to widespread poverty and the relatively high prices of medications.

With value-added tax kicking in within three months, the demand for cheaper -- and ultimately illegally produced, fake or improperly shipped -- medicine is going to grow, he said.

Prices on medicine could grow by up to 40 percent with VAT, experts said.

The conference, sponsored by the Association of International Pharmaceutical Manufacturers, brought together more than 200 officials and entrepreneurs from Russia, Europe and the United States for a daylong discussion about the most acute problems of fighting counterfeit drugs.

Apart from the new agency to control the spread of counterfeit medicine in Russia, officials are pushing for amendments to laws that would hand more powers to customs in investigating suspicious shipments and tougher punishments for violators of drugs production, import and distribution rules.

Counterfeit drugs currently have an estimated 2 percent to 7 percent share of the pharmaceuticals market. The figures very from a 2 percent to 4 percent estimate from the Health Ministry to 7 percent from international monitoring agencies and the AIPM.

The Health Ministry found that 56 foreign and domestically produced pharmaceutical brands were counterfeited last year, with 61 percent involving Russian brands, Toporkov said.

Russia was largely free of counterfeit drugs until the 1998 economic crisis. But after that point, experts said, the tide changed. About 150 cases of counterfeit drugs were registered in 2000.

The Health Ministry said that no deaths from the use of counterfeit drugs have been registered.

While the figures are comparable with those in other developed countries, participants at the conference raised the alarm Tuesday, calling for joint efforts from the government, pharmaceutical companies and the general public to put a stop to the spread of fakes.

"Fighting counterfeit medicine requires better laws, better enforcement and better cooperation among the public and private sectors," said Robert Rosen, executive director of AIPM, a Russia-based organization representing many of the world's largest producers of medicine and other pharmaceutical products.

Debates over numbers are not applicable in the case of counterfeit drugs, experts argued.

"Because counterfeit medicines are so threatening to the health and even the lives of some patients, the policy of AIPM members and our Russian industry partners is zero tolerance of counterfeits," said Jeffrey Lack, chairman of AIPM Anti-Counterfeiting Committee.

"But to avoid counterfeit drugs, people in the meantime should opt for larger pharmacies with good reputations. The chances of purchasing counterfeit drugs there are much lower," Toporkov said.