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Russia's Duma proposes criminal penalty for faked medications

November 27, 2013, 17:29 UTC+3 Alexandrova Lyudmila
© ITAR-TASS/Stanislav Krasilnikov

MOSCOW, November 27. /ITAR-TASS/. The aspirin I bought in a pharmacy kiosk near the supermarket was unbearably bitter. At once, I knew something was wrong. "Acetylsalicylic acid never tastes like that," the thought flashed through my mind, so I hurried to throw the pack away. A relative of mine, a professional pharmacist, said it was “sheer lunacy” to buy medical formulas at street kiosks. Always go to large renowned pharmacies, she told me, adding even that was not a guarantee against deception.

Faked drugs sold on a huge scale have become one of the desperate troubles in Russia. At the best, counterfeit drugs and dietary supplements do not help, at the worst - people pay a far higher price - with their health or even life. Costly foreign drugs are the most popular targets of fraud. The increase of counterfeit production is explained with the profitability of this ‘business’ - selling fraud medicines is sometimes more lucrative than trafficking drugs.

Experts estimate that 12 percent of drugs available on the Russian market are fraudulent. In the first six months of 2013 alone, 122 items of poor-quality drugs and 10 items of falsified drugs were withdrawn from retail trade. Antibiotics, analgesics, contraceptives and other drugs in great demand are forged most frequently.

The number of illegal groups in this lucrative business never decreases. The latest high-profile case took place last June in the Republic of Kabardino-Balkaria, where the police detained members of an illegal group producing fraudulent drugs at a pharmaceutical facility in Nalchik, the republic’s capital. The facility had been manufacturing counterfeit pills against cancer and AIDS for at least three years. The costly fakes were available in pharmacies in Moscow, the Moscow region, Rostov and Voronezh regions. Faked drugs were also supplied to the children’s cancer center in Nalchik. According to the Ministry of Internal Affairs, the criminals gained about half a billion rubles (about $15 million).

The Russian lawmakers have launched a crusade against fraudulent drugs. A group of State Duma deputies has lately introduced a bill proposing heavier penalty for manufacturing and disseminating medical forgeries. According to the document, manufacturing drugs and medical goods without special permission, if it is obligatory, is to be punished by a 5-8-year imprisonment and a fine of 500,000 -2 million rubles ($15,000-60,000). Meanwhile, those manufacturing, selling and transporting fraudulent drugs and supplements with banned ingredients to Russia are to face three to five years of compulsory labor or 3-5-year imprisonment coupled with the above-mentioned fine.

The toughest punishment is suggested for cases in which a faked drug, used by negligence, has caused the death of two or more people — up to 12 years of imprisonment with a fine of 5 million rubles ($151,000), with not only the manufacturer and the seller but also all links of the chain to bear responsibility.

One of the authors, head of the security and counter-corruption committee, Irina Yarovaya, said currently the production and sales of fraudulent drugs were interpreted as cheating or illegal business activity, not a crime.

However, experts have doubts as to whether the law, if adopted, would be effective enough.

The most difficult thing is to prove a fake drug was the cause of death, the Novye Izvestia daily quotes the executive director of the Union of Professional Pharmaceutical Organizations, Gennadiy Shirshov, as saying. Currently, it is practically impossible, believes the lawyer in the League for protection of Patient Rights Dmitry Aivazyan: “Long and costly research is needed to identify a link between death and a drug taken.”

Meanwhile, the head of one of the companies developing drugs, Dmitry Chagin, describes the bill as a measure fighting not the roots but the consequences. He believes that stricter control of the distributors, over where they buy and how they transport and store drugs, is needed to prevent bad-quality drugs from emerging in pharmacies.

“Now there is a whole range of middlemen between a pharmacy and a manufacturing plant, and when there is a problem, ultimately there is nobody to be brought to justice,” he says.

While those in power are pondering upon the issue, people in the regions start to deal with the problem on their own. In the Urals' main city, Yekaterinburg, the Communists initiated a foundation called ‘City without Fake Drugs’.

The latest surveys in Russian cities have shown up to 40% of drugs available in pharmacies are dangerous fakes, Vyacheslav Vegner, leader of the Communist fraction in the Yekaterinburg city council, told the Novy Region news agency.

“We have decided to fight this practice by buying drugs for further laboratory analysis. Drugs will be bought both at random and on people’s requests,” the legislator said.