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Sugar in place of APIs discovered in EU's largest fake drug seizure

By Dan Stanton , 14-Apr-2014
Last updated on 15-Apr-2014 at 12:46 GMT

Fake aspirin and anti-diarrhoeal medicines were amongst the largest counterfeit drugs haul discovered to be destined for the European Union, a French customs official says.

Over 2.4 million counterfeit drugs were discovered by customs officials in the port of Le Havre, France on February 27 this year, it was revealed late last week, including over 1.2 million packets of aspirin containing sugar in place of an active pharmaceutical ingredient (API).

Speaking with in-Pharmatechnologist.com, Nicolas Barraud – a spokesman for the French direction générale des douanes et droits indirects  (Directorate-General of Customs and Indirect Taxes) – said this is the largest seizure of counterfeit drugs sent directly to Europe.

He confirmed similar sized hauls have been made but those were in transit on their way to Africa. These counterfeits were supposed to be delivered to Belgium, he added, though French officials are still investigating in which country the fakes were destined be sold in.

The fake aspirin and anti-diarrhoeal drugs consisted of sugar instead of their respective APIs, Barraud continued, whilst counterfeit Cialis and Viagra tablets containing the wrong dose of APIs were also discovered amongst the 601 cartons of tablets and sachets discovered in two containers claiming to be Chinese tea.

A spokesperson from Eli Lilly who manufactures Cialis and has recently spent over $100m as part of its own Global Anti-Counterfeiting initiative , also commented to us regarding the seizure.

“Sadly, this recent discovery is not unusual in regards to the volume of counterfeit medication discovered, nor that the final destination is unknown,” we were told.

“Counterfeiters are criminals who operate globally, flourish in both developed and developing countries, and have little regard for public health and safety. We see instances of product being developed in one country; trafficked through multiple countries; and finally being sold to consumers illegitimately in another country.”

The seizure comes almost a year after the EU’s second largest haul of counterfeit drugs was seized by French officials, also at Le Havre and by a similar method, with customs seizing 1.3 million fake aspirin hidden behind boxes of Chinese tea.

As to the discovery of the fakes, Barraud told us customs had a “ciblage” (targeting) strategy which conducts a risk analysis on suspicious containers, based on confidential criteria. Furthermore, officers at the port are assisted by both computer software and the aid of the Direction Nationale du Renseignement et des Enquêtes Douanières (DNRED), a French intelligence agency who investigate counterfeit crime.

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