There’s been plenty of outrage recently over the unexplained rise in cost of Mylan’s EpiPen injector. Just last week Mylan’s CEO, Heather Bresch, attempted to defend in Congress the drug’s nearly 600% price increase over the past ten years. This price surge has left many people with life-threatening allergies that depend on this medicine to search for other alternatives such as generic versions, coupon offers, or discounted online sales.
Drug pricing is one of the main reasons consumers head to online pharmacies in search of cheaper options. By the same token, the price of authentic medicines is what drives counterfeiters to manufacture fake, substandard product and offer it for sale virtually anonymously online.
The counterfeit prescription drug market has grown exponentially in recent years, with the current figure estimated at about 10% of the global supply chain. Despite increased consumer awareness surrounding the topic, many still die each year from consuming counterfeit medication. Fake medication can sometimes come in the form of a placebo, but often times it can contain harmful ingredients that can jeopardize the health of the consumer. In 2013, Interpol estimated that one million people die, annually, as the result of counterfeit drugs.
Pharmaceutical companies cannot afford to have their supply chain compromised or allow the sale of illicit products. To combat this problem, a robust online brand protection program is necessary. The program must find and enforce against illicit listings and sellers across B2B trade boards, online marketplaces, and online pharmacies. Often, these sites are home to large networks of sellers offering fake and substandard goods. In fact, only a very small handful, out of thousands, of online pharmacies are VIPPS-accredited by the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy.
Many of these online pharmacies operate as part of a marketing affiliate network. Which means that there are hundreds or even thousands of sites leading consumers to one hub site where order fulfillment and payment processing is taking place. Tracking a hub, its’ volume of affiliates, and associated risk indicators is critical to launching an impactful investigation.
The World Health Organization estimated counterfeit drug sales in excess of $431 billion.
In 2012, the World Health Organization estimated counterfeit drug sales in excess of $431 billion per year. Given the low risk of detection and prosecution coupled with the massive financial rewards, the counterfeit drug trade is not an easy monster to tackle. People in need of life-saving medications for cancer, HIV, diabetes, and allergies… and even those in third world countries in need of the most basic antibiotics… are left at risk.
It’s easy to point fingers at pharmaceutical companies and say that they should just charge less. The newest drugs have to recoup years of research and development costs which can run into the millions. However, pharmaceutical companies are also spending millions to fight the proliferation of counterfeits in order to protect the supply chain. The costs of pharmaceuticals contain more than just the active ingredient.
Surges in prices, as was the case with EpiPen, are troublesome. However, those cases need to be fought in the court of public opinion, the insurance companies and legislators. In the meantime, companies like Mylan should ensure the safety of their patients by taking the necessary measures to protect them from non-reputable providers.
Branddy Spence is OpSec's Director of Corporate Communications. Prior to her current role, she spent several years implementing successful brand protection programs for many well-known licensing and entertainment brands.