Black Market Supply Builds Antibiotic Resistance

A recent headline in the Guardian declared that antibiotic resistance rivals cancer as a public health issue.

It’s been known for decades amongst medical and public health experts: the tools that we have to fight killer bacteria are becoming less effective and the costs to innovate new medicine are skyrocketing. Losing this battle may actually see life expectancies fall for future generations.

Few people are aware that antibiotic resistance is already a significant issue in South East Asia, and that black market supply of antibiotics is a major contributing factor to the emergence of antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

South East Asia is rife with counterfeit and expired medicines, and doses of counterfeit or expired antibiotics are often below what is required to kill the bacteria. The consequence of administering these to patients is that the strongest bacteria survive the course of treatment, and resistance emerges in the bacteria to prevent the medicines being effective in the future.

It even more troubling that black market supply allows access to our most advanced antibiotics. Right now, the public can access the strongest antibiotics the world has to offer over the counter in a range of South East Asian countries. Don’t believe us? We’ve worked with various Cambodian authorities to seize antibiotics like gentamacin, lincomycin and moxifloxacin that have been illegally procured by pharmacies, clinics and distributors. We do this with alarming regularity.

The additional complication is that these drugs are being overprescribed, and in many instances, given to patients by completely unqualified persons. In the developed world, these advanced antibiotics would be tightly controlled, used only in circumstances of dire need. In South East Asia, they are handed out like lollies.

The re-entry of the pharmaceutical industry to antibiotic research and development was announced in early 2016, but is the industry doing enough to control their existing product? Black market supply of pharmaceuticals remains a major issue for the pharmaceutical industry and society at large. Aside from the loss of human life, this issue will pose huge additional costs on the industry and shorten the lifespans of both existing and new antibiotics.

Further information on the issues surrounding illegal medicine will be released in our upcoming research report.