More than two dozen of the world's largest pharmaceutical companies have agreed to provide funding and other support to Interpol's battle against counterfeit prescription drugs, the international police agency said Tuesday.
Interpol's newly created Pharmaceutical Crime Program aims to help health agencies, police and customs bureaus in countries around the globe stem the supply of bogus brand-name and generic medicines, as well as identify and dismantle the organized crime rings distributing them.
Those rings, which operate across borders, are raking in billions of dollars every year, costing legitimate drugmakers a small fortune in lost sales. Meanwhile patients who unknowingly take counterfeit drugs often are poisoned or get sicker because they're not receiving what the doctor prescribed. Experts estimate hundreds of thousands of people around the world die because of counterfeit medicines each year.
The pharmaceutical companies have pledged a total of nearly $5.9 million over three years to help Interpol with efforts including training local law enforcement officials on investigative procedures, evidence handling and how to better work with partners outside their countries.
Interpol also will help those authorities build up their infrastructure and target enforcement actions against crime rings that make and sell fake drugs, and also divert medication illegally to countries where it's not approved.
"We will develop a program according to what is best for the international community and what will save lives," Aline Plancon, head of Interpol's counterfeiting and pharmaceutical crime program, said.
The World Health Organization estimates sales of medicines that are counterfeit, contaminated or otherwise illegal total $430 billion a year.
In developing countries, up to 50 percent of the drug supply may be fake. In developed countries, most dangerous fake drugs are sold through rogue Internet pharmacies.