A War On Drugs That’s Actually Worth Fighting

100,000 people now die every year due to fake drugs. It is time for the resources wasted on a failed "war on drugs" to be put to good use.

The image above shows a Chinese policeman wading through a sea of confiscated fake medicines. It is now estimated that between 100,000 and a million people die every year due to fake medicine. Yet this remains a topic that rarely receives any attention whatsoever, despite being a problem far more suited to police intervention than the “war on drugs,” which takes up the lion's share of drug-related law enforcement and criminal justice resources.


The argument against fake medicines is obvious: Fake medicines have no possible benefit, yet cause countless deaths. In theory, it is a problem far better suited to police intervention than illegal drug use, because unlike recreational drug users, victims of fake drugs are unwilling and conduct their business in the open.

So why has so little been done? There is a very important distinction between “counterfeit drugs” and “fake drugs.” Many drugs are far too expensive for patients in poor parts of the world or without insurance, so plenty of people are forced to buy counterfeits. These are illegal generic drugs, whose makers do not pay for intellectual property. This is a very different crime to that of the producers of fake drugs, which are drugs that are designed to look like real drugs, but in fact contain no medicine. By any standard, the latter is a crime on a far grander scale.

The producers of counterfeit medications are responsible for the only affordable life-saving medications in plenty of parts of the world. From one perspective, they are modern day Robin Hoods who save potentially millions of lives.

Much of the world’s law enforcement agencies currently see no distinction between these two categories of crime, which is one key reason the more serious crime of producing fake drugs so often flies under the radar.

There are obvious financial reasons for pharmaceutical companies and other vested interests to fail to attack the problem of fake drugs. The very existence of fake drugs encourages patients to take genuine medication instead of generic or counterfeit medication that may be as effective. Making the problem of fake drugs go away could therefore actually threaten their bottom line.

An investigation by Newsweek has shone a light on the problem, pointing out that even the World Health Organization makes no distinction between “fake” and “counterfeit,” using one catch-all term that obfuscates the problem: SSFC — “ substandard, spurious, falsely labeled, falsified and counterfeit.” This is patently ridiculous. The producers of counterfeit medications are responsible for the only affordable life-saving medications in plenty of parts of the world. From one perspective, they are modern day Robin Hoods who save potentially millions of lives. The producers of fake drugs, on the other hand, are knowingly responsible for nothing but pain, misery, and death through the very worst kind of fraud. The first step in the war against fake drugs is understanding the difference.

Read the full investigation at Newsweek.

 Follow Simon Oxenham on TwitterFacebookGoogle+RSS, or join the mailing list to get each week's post straight to your inbox. Image Credit: Stringer/Getty

A dark matter hurricane is crashing into Earth

Giving our solar system a "slap in the face."

Surprising Science
  • A stream of galactic debris is hurtling at us, pulling dark matter along with it
  • It's traveling so quickly it's been described as a hurricane of dark matter
  • Scientists are excited to set their particle detectors at the onslffaught
Keep reading Show less

We are heading for a New Cretaceous, not for a new normal

The climate change we're witnessing is more dramatic than we might think.

Image credit: NASA Goddard Space Flight Center from Greenbelt, MD, USA
Surprising Science

A lazy buzz phrase – 'Is this the new normal?' – has been doing the rounds as extreme climate events have been piling up over the past year. To which the riposte should be: it's worse than that – we're on the road to even more frequent, more extreme events than we saw this year.

Keep reading Show less

New study reveals what time we burn the most calories

Once again, our circadian rhythm points the way.

Photo: Victor Freitas / Unsplash
Surprising Science
  • Seven individuals were locked inside a windowless, internetless room for 37 days.
  • While at rest, they burned 130 more calories at 5 p.m. than at 5 a.m.
  • Morning time again shown not to be the best time to eat.
Keep reading Show less