: About five per cent of medicines in Malaysia are counterfeit, the Emerging Markets Health Network estimates.
Pfizer Director of Global Security Mark Robinson said although the prevalence is relatively low compared to other countries in the region, counterfeit drug is a growing concern in Malaysia.
“This is an industry problem, not a company’s problem,” he said at the launch of Pfizer’s Patient Authentication via SMS System (PASS) system today.
“Counterfeit drugs in recent decades have surged largely because the rewards of faking medicines outweigh the risks. Manufacturers and purveyors of counterfeit medicines can make large profits (even higher profit than selling illicit drugs) while running minimal risks of detection.”
It is also difficult for consumers to identify fake drugs because they often look the same as the authentic ones, Robinson added.
“Counterfeit drug manufacturers place emphasis on the appearance and not the efficacy of the product. They authentic and counterfeit drug can look almost identical. All they care about is fooling people to take a product made in unsanitary conditions that may contain harmful ingredients.” he said.
The fake ‘medicines’, he said, pose threat to patients’ health and safety because not only its contents are not regulated and may contain none of the active pharmaceutical ingredient (API) to deliver the therapeutic benefit for which they are prescribed for, some of the ingredients could potentially bring more harm and life-threatening risks.
Roach powder, rat poison, brick dust and leaded highway paint – these could just be some of the handful of harmful ingredients contained in a counterfeit drug.
Men, he added, are most susceptible to being a victim of counterfeit drug.
In 2012, the Ministry of Health in seized more than 40,000 unregistered products worth more than RM23.5 million. Out of which, majority of the seized counterfeit drugs being medication for the treatment of erectile dysfunction (ED).
Consultant Urological Surgeon and Clinical Associate Professor of Monash University Prof George Lee Eng Geap said a large proportion of men continued to be embarrassed to discuss ED, driving them ‘underground’ to seek for treatment.
“The cultural barrier still forces men to suffer in silence. The embarrassment of discussing ED often drives men to seek quick-fixes, via online sources and anonymous street sellers.”
“Some 60 percent of patients suffering from ED often try to self-medicate (bypassing consultation with professional physicians), at the risk of taking non- genuine medicine,” he said.
More often than not, these fake drug that promises cure for ED are ‘marketed’ as herbal medication, with their advertisements commonly displayed on the streets of Malaysia.
“It is a stigma that the Ministry of Health and medical practitioners continue to work on, so that men won’t go purchasing off the streets,” he said, adding that a shift in cultural acceptance of counterfeit products must also take place among Malaysians to overcome the fake drug problem.
Pfizer Director of Global Security Mark Robinson speaks about the threat of counterfeit drug in Malaysia at a press conference held at Pullman Kuala Lumpur Bangsar Hotel, November 11, 2014 - Photo by Astro AWANI/Cynthia Ng
As part of its efforts towards tackling the threat of counterfeit drug, Pfizer with local enforcement agencies has collaborated since 2002 to detect and deter counterfeiting operations, on top of working with healthcare professionals, pharmacists and the public on safe medicine.
Its latest measure is the anti-counterfeit technology PASS, now available in its urology line of products in Malaysia, whereby consumers can instantly verify a product’s authenticity by sending its verification code via SMS to the manufacturer, which will then confirm the drug’s legitimacy.
Malaysia is the second country to have PASS technology, after a successful introduction by Pfizer in Hong Kong.