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Russia needs effective remedy against fake drugs

November 11, 2014, 17:41 UTC+3 Alexandrova Lyudmila
© Ilya Pitalev/TASS

MOSCOW, November 11. /TASS/. Russian legislation is too lax towards the manufacturers of fake medicaments and has to be tightened drastically to be adjusted to measures existing in other countries, says a group of Federation Council (upper house) members. The legislators have proposed a bill establishing criminal punishment for making, transporting, keeping and selling counterfeit medicines. If the bill is adopted and signed into law, those eager to make a fortune by jeopardizing other people’s health will have to brace for the risk of spending from three to ten years behind bars or paying a fine of up to 1 million rubles (around $21,500).

According to the World Health Organization’s memo attached to the bill, forgeries on the Russian market of medical products constitute 12%.

The Russian Academy of Medical Science member Oleg Kiselyov told the Rossiiskaya Gazeta daily that in some groups of products on the shelves of Russia’s pharmacies, no less than a third are fakes unable to yield the desired effect.

These days the producers of counterfeit medications are most often fined no more than 100,000 rubles (around $2,000). The same penalty applies to the manufacturers of all other goods that fail to meet safety requirements. The organizers of such schemes may wind up in jail only if there is sufficient evidence their fakes are to blame for the harm caused to people’s health. Proving that is sometimes hardly possible.

In most other countries such crimes incur far harsher punishment. In the United States trade in fake medications may entail a fine of up to $200 million or a life term in prison, in Turkey, a prison term of 30 to 50 years, and in India, a life term.

In the meantime, in Russia the problem is getting from bad to worse. Russians come across warnings against fake medications at every step. The producers of the quite popular anti-virus pills Arbidol have distributed among the mass media a special instruction describing in detail how to distinguish the authentic packs of the medication from mass-produced forgeries.

The media regularly carry reports of police quashing undercover facilities making dummy drugs. Ever more often swindlers undertake to fake high price medical formulas, including oncological medicines. For instance, police in Kabardino-Balkaria last year arrested members of a crime ring that had for three years been making fake pills for cancer and AIDS patients. That fraudulent business made about half a billion rubles (over $1 million).

Experts say the most widely spread and relatively harmless substances found in the fakes are chalk, starch and sugar. But those who happened to take useless dummies can sometimes be envied, though. Other cases had really sad outcomes.

In this respect the years-old row over Mildronate — a fake heart drug from the Moscow-based Sotex company — is rather telling.

“My head bent helplessly. Then I thought, ‘Why am I not breathing?’ Then I heard female voices screaming around me, ‘We’ve got to do something, she is turning blue!'” the daily Komsomolskaya Pravda quotes Natalya Prokopieva, of the city of Kurgan. Natalya was one of the first victims of forged Mildronate and the only one who was rescued. The two others who called an ambulance after taking Mildronate from Sotex had died by the time ambulance teams arrived.

Mildronate is a cardio-vascular drug doctors advise to take after brain strokes. In reality the pack contained a different medicine — Lysthenon — a strong pain killer.

“It’s the human factor to blame,” the manufacturer said. But it also turned out that the Lysthenon that had been sold as Mildronate was also past the expiration date. Two deaths and twenty ruined lives — rehabilitation after brain strokes ended in paralysis.

The litigation is in the fifth year now. No one has been punished yet. The health service watchdog Roszdravnadzor demanded the factory be closed down, but the case was lost.

There are many similar blood-curdling stories, so it is only natural that many experts have thrown their weight behind the legislators’ initiative.

A member of the Patients’ Protection League Alexey Starchenko has described the bill as both right and timely. The daily Novyie Izvestia quotes him as saying, however, that the proposed measure is not sufficient. “There must be systemic measures of control over medicines. Any individual should feel free to take a suspicious pill to the laboratory and get a prompt answer,” Starchenko said. Now it takes a court ruling to initiate such a probe.

The crusade against false medications is continuing along other lines. The circulation of fake medical drugs has become quite an issue with the advent and spread of the Internet. The State Duma is now considering draft amendments to the bill On the Circulation of Medical Formula enabling the authorities to close down websites trading in medicines without a court decision. Internet pharmacies having special licenses will be the sole exception.

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