There are good reasons for counterfeit drug laws

November 30, 2012

Counterfeit drugsA recent report in the British Medical Journal has called for more supervision of counterfeit drugs, which it claims jeopardize public health in developing nations.

The report alleges that one out of every 10 drug products in “poorer nations” is fake and that a third of malaria medications are counterfeit, which presumably means they are not as effective as the “real” medications.

This can be seen as a very important, real-life example of why intellectual property protection matters.

There has been criticism of drug companies for not focusing on diseases that kill thousands in developing countries because there isn’t enough money in it for them. That criticism is not entirely unwarranted, but this report does a good job of showing the other side of the coin.

Drug companies, the ones that can patent their formulas, trademark their brands and make money off their products, send their medications through rigorous testing, quality-control and safety precautionary measures. If this report is to be believed, it seems that the companies producing knockoffs don’t, and that puts some of the world’s most defenseless people at risk.

This might be a little hard to believe in the U.S., where we welcome low-cost generic drugs with open arms, but evidently it’s a very real and very large problem in the rest of the world. In Canada, for example, a counterfeit heart medication was recently seized by authorities that contained no active drug at all; it was just starch and nail polish remover.

Once again, it’s not wrong to keep pressuring drug companies to find cost-effective treatments for disease that affect the developing world, even if a cure wouldn’t be particularly lucrative. We should not, however, bedevil drug companies that sell more costly, yet more effective medications and beatify companies that rip off those medications. In this case, intellectual property protections can be seen as one way of assuring that safe, reliable medicine is getting into the hands of people who need it.