The chairman of Sanofi-Aventis has called on the European Union to introduce strong measures to tackle the growing threat of counterfeit drugs, including a ban on medicine repackaging and harsher penalties for the groups involved in these illegal activities.

Speaking at the European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industries and Associations meeting in Paris, Jean-Francois Dehecq, who is also the association’s vice-president, said that “it is time for Europe to act as the driving force in the fight against this deadly crime. He added that “organised crime gangs operating on an international scale and playing with human lives in the name of profit must be dismantled”.

This should be done through “determined action, systematic prosecution and appropriate sanctions (civil and penal)”, Mr Dehecq claimed. He went on to say that penalties in place in EU member states are “inadequate”, so “administrative and operational tools and resources are required for effective law enforcement”.

EFPIA is demanding an EU ban on medicine repackaging, a harmonised Europe-wide identification system for medicines, as opposed to the 10 different ones that exist today and heavy penalties that should be enforced for those caught trafficking in counterfeits. The association also noted that internet pharmacies are still the main source of fake drugs and “better consumer education is necessary as to the importance of purchasing medicines exclusively from the legitimate supply chain”.

EFPIA also noted that it is making plans to launch a pilot scheme of a “unique barcode system”, to be launched before the end of 2008. The technology used – the 2 dimensional data matrix – “is considered the best option today and could be used as an EU standard”, it claims.