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U.N. Office On Drugs, Interpol Better Equipped Than WHO To Combat Counterfeit Drug Trade

“The worldwide counterfeit drug market is huge and growing,” Tim Mackey and Brian Liang of the Institute of Health Law Studies at the California Western School of Law and Thomas Kubic of the Pharmaceutical Security Institute write in a Foreign Policy opinion piece, noting such “drugs occupy a wide spectrum of medications, and their quality is suspect; they can be mislabeled, tainted, adulterated, ineffective, or, in the worst cases, all of the above.” They argue for a new framework for fighting the illegal drug trade because “[g]lobal policy has not kept up with the burgeoning counterfeit drug trade.” The authors say that although initial results of the WHO IMPACT (International Medical Products Anti-Counterfeit Taskforce) are “encouraging,” they note that “[s]ome WHO member states, including India and Brazil (both top producers of generic drugs) and other developing countries, have questioned whether WHO can rightly take on enforcement operations” because it “is not a global law enforcement agency.”

Instead, they argue that “[a] better institutional bearer for the fight against counterfeit drugs could be the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC),” which would “ideally be supported by the International Criminal Police Organization (Interpol).” In such a case, they write, “WHO would be freed up to operate as the technical and research agency that it is, assessing and recommending measures to deal with public health issues arising from counterfeit medicines.” The authors conclude, “The counterfeit drug trade is a tremendous global health problem, threatening millions of lives worldwide. If agencies do not come together to end it, criminals will continue to meet growing demand and reap profits as everyone else suffers. If they do come together, the battle against perhaps the most menacing public health and patient safety threat of this generation can be won, and all of us can be assured that the medicines we use are safe” (5/14).