Government officials remained silent on the issue of counterfeit drugs on Friday after the United States government cited the Philippines as a leading source of fake pharmaceutical products along with five other countries.
This developed as the leading local drug industry group said counterfeiting is a serious concern affecting the global pharmaceutical supply chain and a burden to patients worldwide, including the Philippines.
The president of a local consumer group, however, said he did not believe the US Trade Representative’s Special 301 Report released Thursday, calling it a “demolition job by the pharmaceutical industry, mostly Americans and multinationals.”
This was “primarily due to price regulations of essential drugs, which was opposed by the pharma industry,” said lawyer Vic Dimagiba of Laban Konsyumer, Inc. in a statement.
Officials of the Health and Trade departments, the Food and Drug Administration, and even Malacanang had no comment as of press time despite repeated efforts by the Standard, after the USTR lumped the Philippines along with China, India, Vietnam, Indonesia, and Pakistan among the top countries producing fake drugs.
But Dimagiba said the Philippines has an active program against counterfeit drugs, “and there is a special law that penalties counterfeits.”
“I still maintain that this report is the pharma industry shooting the regulators’ integrity and competencies. Bumawi against MDRP. (They got back against the Maximum Drug Retail Price regulation). Below the belt,” the LKI president added.
The Pharmaceutical and Healthcare Association of the Philippines (PHAP), representing pharmaceutical providers that are engaged in the research and discovery of medicines and vaccines, said they are “exerting all efforts to protect patients against counterfeiting.”
“We are working closely with regulators in monitoring products in the market, helping identify real versus fake medicines, and in apprehending counterfeiters,” it said.
PHAP is also investing heavily in technologies to protect their products and safeguard the supply chain from counterfeiters. Its members also have dedicated medicine surveillance units to help keep the integrity of medicines in the country, it added.
“Counterfeiters thrive in an environment where there is lack of information. It is important that all of us work together in the fight against counterfeit medicines,” the group said.
PHAP urges the public to be vigilant and to source medicines only from FDA-approved pharmacies. If buying online, it is important to “think before you click.”
The public must look for the FDA license to operate, and check for a valid physical address or telephone number if buying online. It is also important to always check the physical appearance of the medicine including its color, taste and packaging, the group warned.
“They must avoid sellers who claim they have the miracle drug or vaccine, including those for COVID-19,” it added.
In one of his weekly “Talk to the People” televised messages last February, President Rodrigo Duterte told authorities to inject the fake medicines into those selling them.
“The [fake] drugs seized from them, you keep it for the courts’ intervention. You preserve the body of the crime,” Duterte said, addressing FDA Deputy Director Oscar Gutierrez.
“Now, if there are already too many of them, my suggestion to the NBI (National Bureau of Investigation) and the CIDG (Criminal Investigation and Detection Group): ‘Tell them [sellers] to keep half of what was confiscated. Let them take it—slowly,” the President added.