During this global pandemic, counterfeit drugs hit the market and seem to be growing even now at an alarming rate. Although battling such faulty products has been a priority for manufacturers and suppliers, the industry is seeing a wide spread of and huge amounts of counterfeit medicines flood the market. The World Health Organization says that close to one in ten medicinal products in low to middle-income nations are falsified. Needless to say, such faulty drugs can prove to be life threatening as they contain improper ingredients or no active ingredients. It’ll thereby not only prove to be ineffective but it may in fact worsen the condition of the patient by putting them at serious risk.

The industry as a whole needs to relook and reinvest in testing of their products and ensure the quality of such goods are also making full use of the latest counterfeit prevention technology. This allows efficient and automated lab testing processes while maintaining the integrity of the products. Any impurities or irregularities can be identified right away and can be taken out. It is now crucial for drug companies to invest in solutions to protect their supply chains and prevent future public health risks.

Fake medicines are costing the pharmaceutical sector billions of dollars every year, there’s now widespread understanding that during the current pandemic the problem has been growing at a faster rate than ever. Just in March 2020 alone Interpol’s Operation Pangea XIII operation seized counterfeit products (including PPE products such as masks and even hand sanitizers) worth over $14 million across the spread of 90 countries and in 121 arrests worldwide.

What are the major concerns for the industry?

During the pandemic, the industry saw new challenges as supply chains were facing shortages which led to a high demand for medicines not easily available in the market. There was speculation and unproven solutions for what would be effective in protection against Covid-19 which opened the market up to illegal online pharmacies and services along with illegal medicines. Supply chains also faced blockages because of lockdowns and restrictions which prevented detection of counterfeit goods.

With Brexit looming, the UK and Europe have become vulnerable to fake goods. The Royal Pharmaceutical Society believes that the Falsified Medicines Directive (FMD), Europe’s anti-counterfeit drugs legislation, won’t be able to protect markets during the Brexit transition period. It may become harder to control the trade and exchange of medicines in and out of the UK into Europe till a more concrete plan to tackle this problem is announced.

As the pandemic made it harder to track fake drugs, manufacturers and suppliers can take a few key measures to combat and overcome the challenges the industry is currently facing and what will continue beyond 2020. By using elemental analyzers, pharmaceutical labs can identify contamination in drug samples and can trace illegal products to their source via isotopic identifiers in batches. Manufacturers can also validate the purity of the ingredients in their medicines and will be able to test if their equipment has been properly sanitized between different production cycles. With the use of these tools and by following these measures, this threat of counterfeit drugs can be controlled and may prevent risks to vulnerable communities across the globe.


WHO, Substandard and falsified medical products, 31 January 2018

Interpol, Global operation sees a rise in fake medical products related to COVID-19, 2020