World police agency Interpol says more than one million people die each year from counterfeit drugs, highlighting one of the fastest-growing and most lucrative income sources for global organized crime networks.
According to the International Criminal Policing Association (Interpol), up to 30 percent of drugs sold worldwide are counterfeit, causing health problems and even death for millions of people, reported El Tiempo.
Speaking at Interpol's 82nd General Assembly in Cartagena, Colombia, coordinator of the Medical Products Counterfeiting and Pharmaceutical Crime (MPCPC) unit, Aline Plancon, said it was difficult to accurately quantify the costs in terms of human life and dollars, reported El Universal.
Still, she underlined the links between organized crime and counterfeit drug production: criminals obtain cheap, generic brands and sell them as name brands; they also falsify contents and packaging.
Some of the most common counterfeit drugs are antibiotics, HIV/AIDS and cancer medication, antidepressants, drugs to treat erectile dysfunction, weight-loss supplements and anti-malaria medication, reported Caracol. Interpol found that more than 200,000 people die each year from counterfeit anti-allergy drugs alone, reported El Colombiano.
According to Plancon, the Internet provides an ideal market for criminal gangs, who use illegal sites to move millions of illicit drugs. The World Health Organization estimates that more than 50 percent of medication purchased online in which the doctor's name is concealed is counterfeit.
Colombia is itself home to a massive counterfeit pharmaceutical industry -- in recent years, Colombian authorities have seized 16 million units of fake drugs, worth more than $12 million.
InSight Crime Analysis
The rise in false medication in Colombia, one of the world’s top ten countries for fake pharmaceuticals, is part of a regional trend. One third of drugs in Latin America are estimated to be fake. In some markets where cocaine consumption has fallen, such as the United States, use of prescription drugs has risen sharply. There has long been talk of Latin American organized crime moving into the multi-billion dollar trade, with Mexican cartels apparently already involved.
SEE ALSO: Colombia News and Profiles
With declining demand for their traditional product in longstanding markets, and astronomical profits available on black market pharmaceuticals, the involvement of Latin American organized crime in the industry may be part of the future of the global drug trade.
Reinforcing this development is the prohibitive cost of legitimate medical treatment in both the developed and developing world, which could drive people into the arms of organized crime-supplied medication and exacerbate the critical health risks already being felt across the globe.