Interpol’s De Santana Barbosa on counterfeit medicine: “Attractive for organized crime due to high profit and low risk”

POSTED: 02/29/12 2:05 PM

St. Maarten – “Producing and distributing counterfeit medicines is a particularly dangerous and cruel form of crime. It not only undermines corporate innovation, creativity and intellectual property, but it also targets innocent, unsuspecting and highly vulnerable people.”

This statement by Rosinete de Santana Barbosa set the tone for the Interpol awareness seminar on medical products counterfeiting and pharmaceutical crime that started yesterday morning at the Sonesta Maho Beach Resort in Cupecoy. De Santana Barbosa is the assistant director of the National Central Bureau for the co-ordination of Interpol-activities in the Americas.

“The high profit and low risk of getting caught make the counterfeiting of medical products very attractive for organized crime,” De Santana Barbosa said. “Some criminal organizations are able to replicate drugs, their packaging and embedded security features so well that even industry experts find it hard to distinguish the real products from the counterfeited ones.”

Fighting this type of crime is a huge challenge, the Interpol assistant director said. Compounding the problem are inadequate legislation, insufficient law enforcement capacity, corruption, lack of awareness and insufficient or non-existent dedicated public structures to confront the situation.

Interpol has built a global network of partners to fight counterfeit medicine production and distribution. Four years ago, in 2008, Interpol signed an agreement with the World Health Organization WJO and placed an officer at its headquarters. Interpol also joined the WHO’s international medical products anti-counterfeiting taskforce known as Impact.

De Santana Barbosa said that the fight against counterfeit medicine had already yielded results with the operation Pangea IV. “In cooperation with police, customs and national regulatory agencies from 81 member countries, this operation has led to the shutting down of more than 13,000 websites that were involved in the trafficking of counterfeit pharmaceutical products. Through the inspection of more than 45,000 packages our coalition confiscated 2.4 million individual doses of potentially harmful drugs, including antibiotics, anti-cancer and anti-epileptic pills, as well as steroids and food supplements. The black market value of these drags was $6.3 million. Fifty-five suspects were arrested in fifteen countries.”

The operation also gave Interpol valuable insights into how criminal organizations in this field operate.

De Santana Barbosa said that Interpol wishes to express its commitment to the Caribbean’s call for action by organizing the seminar in St. Maarten. “We are pleased to support all member countries in the region in building capacity and cross-institutional connectivity in the fight against this awful kind of transnational plague,” she said.

“Organized crime is an international challenge demanding an international response, strong partnerships and the commitment and engagement of all agencies. Only through international cooperation can we stop criminals making grotesque profits from the counterfeiting of medical products.”

The seminar’s opening session yesterday morning was attended by Prime Minister Sarah Wescot-Williams, President of Parliament Gracita Arrindell, Justice Minister Roland Duncan, Public Health Minister Cornelius de Weever, Chief Commissioner Peter de Witte and the head of the customs department, Anthony Doran. They all made brief welcome speeches to the approximately sixty delegates in attention.

Chief Commissioner de Witte said that his force had been focusing on security, the fight against drugs, violence and weapons. “However, there is more. With the advancement of medical science and medical skills we have acquired the knowledge to gradually increase age limits. Not in the least because of drugs, which often after a long preparatory research and a lot of financial investment, lead to reduce human distress and pain.”

The chief commissioner noted however that “any development associated with financial investments casts its own shadow. It attracts people who unscrupulously want to make profit. This is a phenomenon of many centuries, even in healthcare. In centuries past there were many sorcerers and charlatans who made promises, and profited from them. It was the patient who suffered.

“It may not seem the most exciting topic for establishing international crime fighting, but it is about the most precious thing we own: our health and our lives. The fight against illegal and counterfeit drugs is literally vital.”

Aline Plancon, head of the medical counterfeiting unit, said in answer to a question from this newspaper that the Interpol bureau that will be established in St. Maarten will be “the first point of contact with our headquarters in Lyon. The bureau is part of the police organization.”

Justice Minister Roland Duncan added that already two officers have been selected to staff the bureau.

Prime Minister Wescot-Williams kept her composure when she was asked about the costs of the seminar. “You have to look at the balance sheet,” she said. “What does this bring us and what does it cost? What we will get out of this is more than worth the cost.”

That answer triggered applause from the delegates.

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Interpol’s De Santana Barbosa on counterfeit medicine: “Attractive for organized crime due to high profit and low risk” by

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