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Fake drugs trade on the rise in the EU

Berlin — The trade in counterfeit medicines in the European Union has exceeded the body’s worst fears, the European industry commissioner said last week.

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," Verheugen said.

"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.

Verheugen said counterfeiting drugs should be treated as a serious crime and punished severely.

"Every faked drug is a potential massacre. Even when a medicine only contains an ineffective substance, this can lead to people dying because they think they are fighting their illness with a real drug," Verheugen said.

"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.