Counterfeit medicines

A counterfeit medicine is a purposefully and deceptively mislabelled medicinal preparation. The deception might lie in the packaging labels that contain false information on the contents, origin or identifiability of the medicinal preparation, or in other information about the preparation.

How can a counterfeit medicine be recognised?

A counterfeit medicines is almost impossible to recognise. A user cannot recognise a counterfeit medicine by its looks. Even experts often need laboratory tests in order to recognise a counterfeit medicine.

Criminals are continuously developing methods that attempt to circumvent the efforts aimed at identifying counterfeit medicines. Some of the recognised counterfeit medicines are skilfully made forgeries.

The best way to avoid counterfeit medicines is to purchase medicines from a pharmacy. This ensures that their safety, efficacy and quality is monitored. Legal medicinal preparations produced by the original manufacturer are not sold at a discount price in the internet.

Keep in mind, that a counterfeit medicine does not necessarily

  • taste or smell odd or have an unusual colour
  • break down in an unusual way
  • come in a poor-quality packaging
  • come in a packaging that has spelling mistakes.

Where are counterfeit medicines found?

Counterfeit medicines are reported continuously all over the world. In developed countries (including EU member states, Australia, Canada, Japan, New Zealand and the United States), counterfeit medicines have not yet been found very often. In developing countries, counterfeits might amount to 10–30 % of the medicines on sale.

A particularly worrisome trend is the introduction of counterfeit medicines into legal medicine distribution channels, i.e. pharmaceutical distributors and pharmacies. The number of these cases has in recent years increased also in developed countries and the EU.

In 2014, counterfeit medicines were found in the legal medicines distribution chain in several European countries, including Finland.

In Finland, counterfeit medicines are encountered among medicines ordered from the Internet or imported into the country by travellers. Confiscations by the Finnish Customs at the EU border have increased every year. The Finnish Customs estimates that only about a half of the illegal medicines obtained from the Internet are caught by customs.

What are the dangers of counterfeit medicines?

A counterfeit medicine is always a health risk. The active ingredients or other ingredients in a counterfeit medicine might be incorrect, inefficient or even dangerous. In the worst case, a counterfeit medicine might kill its user.

Why are medicines counterfeited?

Illegal trade in medicines is connected with criminal activities, such as drug and doping trade. Counterfeiting medicines is a profitable business with a fairly small risk of getting caught. Like international drug trade, medicine counterfeiting is an organised activity. The intermediaries of counterfeit medicine trade have spread throughout the world, so it is difficult to trace them. Demand is the factor that fuels illegal medicine trade and the spreading of counterfeits. Purchasing a counterfeit medicine supports criminal activities.

What medicines are counterfeited?

All kinds of medicines from expensive anticancer drugs to cheap pain relievers are counterfeited. In developed countries, the most common counterfeit medicines are those associated with a high standard of living or a desired lifestyle, such as medicines for erectile dysfunction or weight loss.

How can I protect myself from counterfeit medicines?

The best way to avoid counterfeit medicines is to purchase medicines through a legal distribution channel – a pharmacy. When purchasing drugs abroad, ensure that the local supplier is authorised to distribute medicines in retail. Any drugs you might need on a trip should be purchased from your own country.

Do not buy medicinal products from illegal online stores. A legitimate Finnish online pharmacy can be identified by the pan-European logo that acts as a link to a list of legitimate online pharmacies. The list is maintained by Fimea.

Do not purchase medicines from illegal online stores. A legal online store of a Finnish pharmacy always contains a link to Fimea's list of legal online services of pharmacies. Ordering medicines from an illegal online store poses a risk not only to your health, but also makes you guilty of illegal import of medicines. The risk associated with illegal medicine trade is carried solely by the importer or orderer of the medicine.

How do the authorities fight the trade on counterfeit medicines?

Problems associated with illegal medicines cannot be solved by simply shutting down websites or enforcing stricter import regulations. One of the most important means is to increase people's awareness of the safety risks associated with counterfeit medicines.

A multitude of methods is used in the fight against counterfeit medicines. Various authorities co-operate on a practical level both domestically and internationally. Crime associated with counterfeit medicines is also fought by a General Agreement of the Council of Europe. The European Union has developed its legislation to further safeguard the legal manufacture and distribution chain against counterfeit medicines.

The European Union has developed its legislation to further protect the legitimate manufacture and distribution chain of pharmaceutical products against counterfeit medicines. July 2015 saw the launch of an EU-wide logo that consumers can click to verify that an online pharmacy is legitimate. The common logo promotes the safe online sale of medicines. Plans are also underway for adopting safety markings on medicine packages. Such safety markings would enable the consumer to verify that packages are genuine and unopened.

Travellers' medicines