Members of the European Parliament have adopted a resolution calling for the European Union to play a leading role in making drug counterfeiting a criminal offence in every member state, as well as in the creation of an international convention to fight the trade.

Noting their “regret” that Europe only became involved at a late stage in the international fight against counterfeiting, the MEPs called on the EU to equip itself, as a matter of urgency, with the means to combat the trade, and for greater cooperation at both national and international levels. Europe must also take steps to strengthen the drug regulatory and quality control capacities in countries which lack the resources to do so, and to improve access to affordable medicines, they say.

The European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industries and Associations has welcomed the move, saying that the research-based pharmaceutical industry “wholeheartedly supports the resolution…to step up actions and play an enhanced pivotal role in the global fight against counterfeit medicines.”

Dr Thomas Zimmer, Chair of EFPIA's Anti-Counterfeiting working group, said at a press conference: "There is no doubt that counterfeiting of medicinal products must be fought vigorously, primarily as it constitutes a threat to patient safety and public health. Counterfeit medicines is a growing global problem which requires a global solution.”

The World Health Organization estimates that counterfeit drugs now account for 10% of the world market, but the US Food and Drug Administration puts this percentage higher, said the MEPs.

The EU currently has no anti-counterfeiting measures which specifically relate to medicines. The research-based pharmaceutical industry has repeatedly warned that, while parallel importing is legal in the EU, it increases the risk of counterfeiting and piracy because medicines are frequently repackaged by parallel importers. However, earlier this year, the European Association of Pharmaceutical Full-Line Wholesalers, which represents the importers, stated that its members “adopt a zero-tolerance approach” to counterfeit drugs, and added: “The only way to avoid the risk of counterfeits in the supply chain is to develop and maintain a close, interlinked, collaborative information system involving health authorities, manufacturers and all partners of the supply chain.” By Lynne Taylor