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Counterfeiting has become more prevalent as pharmaceutical supply chains increasingly stretch across continents. Over 80 percent of the active ingredients used in U.S. pharmaceuticals are now manufactured overseas, according to a recent congressional report, and experts say this has made it easier to move counterfeit products into this country.
"With today's transportation networks, it's no longer a stretch to move these materials from a source in Pakistan or India to the U.S." said Tom Kubic, president of Pharmaceutical Security Institute, a trade association set up by two dozen pharmaceutical companies.
In 2005, federal prosecutors indicted 11 employees of a Missouri business on charges of conspiring to sell $42 million in counterfeit Lipitor. It was manufactured in Costa Rica and illegally imported to the U.S., where it was sold to wholesalers.
Industry experts also say a combination of big profits and low penalties has made drug counterfeiting an increasingly attractive business for criminals in the U.S. and abroad.
A single vial of Avastin sells for $2,400, and the drug had nearly $2.7 billion in U.S. sales last year, while the sentence for drug counterfeiting in the United States is about three years in prison. That compares with 15 years for counterfeiting money.
John Clark, head of global security for Pfizer Inc., said counterfeiters can make several million dollars quickly and, if they're caught, get off with as little as six months in jail. He also said counterfeiters can set up an operation at a fairly low cost -- perhaps $50,000, including about $20,000 for a pill press.
"It's a no-brainer for criminal organizations that it's worth a gamble," Clark said.
Clark said Pfizer's anti-counterfeiting team around the world has seen a number of fake vaccines and biologic drugs sold in developing countries, not just pill-based drugs.
"They're getting much more sophisticated," often getting ahold of legitimate vials that had held such medicines, from patients, trash cans or recycling operations, and then filling them with oil or water.
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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