Interpol Seizes $6.65 Million in Counterfeit Drugs (Update2)

Simeon Bennett | 17 Nov 2008
Interpol seized more than $6.65 million of counterfeit medicines against malaria, HIV and tuberculosis in Southeast Asia and made 27 arrests, disrupting the region's fake drug trade for the second time in three years.

The haul, part of a five-month investigation called Operation Storm across Cambodia, China, Laos, Myanmar, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam, involved almost 200 raids, Aline Plancon, an officer involved in the action, said today by e-mail from Phnom Penh, Cambodia.

Global sales of fake drugs may reach $75 billion in 2010, an increase of more than 90 percent from 2005, the Geneva-based World Health Organization said on its Web site, citing the New York-based Center for Medicine in the Public Interest.

Under Operation Storm, which ran from April 15 to Sept. 15, police seized more than 16 million pills, including fake antibiotics for pneumonia and child-related illnesses, Plancon said.

Asia is the world's biggest producer of all counterfeit products, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development said in a report last year. About 40 percent of 1,047 arrests related to fake drugs worldwide last year were made in Asia, according to the Washington-based Pharmaceutical Security Institute.

Counterfeits account for as much as 30 percent of all drugs in developing nations and less than 1 percent of all medicines in developed nations such as the U.S., according to the WHO.

Malaria Drugs

Of particular concern to health officials are copies of a class of malaria drugs called artemisinins that are the basis of the most effective treatments against the disease, including Novartis AG's Coartem.

Counterfeit artemisinin-based treatments containing small amounts of the medicine are helping the parasite responsible for malaria to evade authentic drugs in patients near Cambodia's border with Thailand, a recent study showed.

As a result, genuine artemisinin-based treatments are starting to fail, raising the risk the resistant parasite will spread, leaving millions of people defenseless against a disease that already kills about 2,400 people every day.

Operation Storm was a joint effort between Lyon, France- based Interpol, the WHO and the World Customs Organization. It's the first time police, customs, drug regulators and health authorities from different nations have worked together to combat counterfeit medicines, Plancon said.

It followed Operation Jupiter, which led to drug seizures and arrests in China and Myanmar.