December 2009

'Spam gang' leader faces $15m fine

The mastermind of a "vast international spam network" has been ordered to pay a fine of $15m (£10m) by US courts.

New Zealander Lance Atkinson and his US accomplice Jody Smith sent billions of illegal e-mails marketing prescription drugs and and weight-loss pills. US authorities claimed the gang - known as HerbalKing - "deceptively marketed" the drugs on the internet.

Three companies affiliated with Mr Smith are liable for a further $4m, following the case. The fines follow a lengthy investigation by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) into the gang, which used a global network of hijacked computers - known as a Botnet - to send out the junk messages. The e-mails marketed various pills which the gang claimed were generic versions of US-branded and licensed medications. However, they were actually imported from India, unapproved and "potentially unsafe" according to authorities.

However, he expressed frustration that the FTC had had to prosecute the gang under rules designed to tackle fake-pharmaceuticals. "They would have got same judgement if they had been selling on the streets of New York," he told BBC News. Read the full story on BBC Online (BBC, 1st December 2009) 

Fake drugs trade on the rise: EU

The trade in counterfeit medicines in the European Union has exceeded the body's worst fears, the European industry commissioner said on Monday.

The EU had seized 34 million fake tablets in just two months, Gunter Verheugen told German daily Die Welt -- including antibiotics, cancer treatments and Viagra. Verheugen said the European Commission was very concerned about the situation and said he expected the EU to take action to fight the menace of fake pharmaceuticals.

"The number of counterfeit medicines arriving in Europe ... is constantly growing. The European Commission is extremely worried. In just two months, the EU seized 34 million fake tablets at customs points in all member countries. This exceeded our worst fears."

Other fake drugs seized included anti-malaria medicines, analgesics and anti-cholesterol treatments. An EU report in July said that many of the fake pharmaceuticals seized in 2008 came from India.

"I expect the EU will agree in 2010 that a drug's journey from manufacture to sale should be scrutinised carefully. There will also be anti-counterfeit markings on packaging -- in particular a barcode and seal, to show clearly if a package has been opened," he said.

In June, EU health ministers gave a warm reception to a legal proposal aimed at stopping fake drugs entering the legal supply chain. The plan included more security measures on packaging, including barcodes, seals and holograms, as well as tighter controls on suppliers. Read the full story on AFP (AFP, 5st December 2009) 

People love a bargain. But when it comes to cutting costs on medicine, they could end up paying with their health.

Shopping online is increasingly the norm for many of us, so you may think it makes sense to buy medicines over the internet too.

Perhaps you think it's quicker and a lot more private than seeing a doctor and when you factor in shelling out for pills to help slimming or erectile dysfunction, you may also think buying them online is cheaper too.

In fact, more than one in seven British adults surveyed admitted to bypassing the healthcare system to get hold of prescription only medicine without a prescription.

One customer of online pharmacies bought Viagra for his erectile disfunction and late found that "My blood pressure was normal, but my cholesterol was raised and it turned out that I was diabetic. The pills I bought online were a waste of time and money. The diabetes is under control and I now get NHS prescriptions to help my sex life." Read the full story on the Sun (Sun, 8st December 2009)

Survey reveals European views on counterfeits

One in 20 Europeans suspect they have received a counterfeit prescription drug and 1 per cent believe they definitely have, according to consumer research group ICM.

This means that as many as 12.8 million European consumers could have been exposed to counterfeit drugs, according to authentication technology company Aegate, which sponsored the study. The research was based on more than 5,000 consumer interviews carried out in five European countries between October 15 and 21.

Awareness of the phoney drugs market was moderate, with 61 per cent of those polled saying they know prescription drugs can be faked. Awareness was higher in the UK, at 75 per cent.

Medicines topped the list of counterfeit items that respondents said would most concern them - at 79 per cent - with all other items mentioned in the poll (clothes, toys, cosmetics, alcohol, CDs and DVDs, cigarettes and golf clubs) in the low single digits.

Consumers see the fake drugs trade to be largely the responsibility of medicines suppliers, with 45 per cent saying the manufacturer is responsible for keeping counterfeits out of the supply chain, 31 per cent saying it is the responsibility of the wholesaler and 30 per cent pointing to the pharmacist.

Consumers also want tougher punishments. Over two thirds of them believe the penalty for counterfeiting medicines should be between five and 15 years in prison, despite the current penalties being far lower - while 19 per cent felt a life sentence was warranted by the crime.

Meanwhile, 85 per cent of consumers said they would feel more confident if medicine packs contained a safety feature that enabled the pharmacist to verify the medicine is genuine before dispensing.

In addition, 90 per cent said they would not buy drugs on-line if pharmacies in Europe had a tool to authenticate prescription drugs. Read the full story on the Securing Pharma (Securing Pharma, 9st December 2009) .