Issues of Black Market Supply: Rise of Superbugs

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In addition to the short to medium term threats to public health, the pharmaceutical industry is increasingly facing the long-term consequences of allowing a black market to exist for antibiotics. A recent headline in the Guardian declared antibiotic resistance rivals cancer as a public health issue.

Its 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 medicines 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 antibioitic-resitant bacteria.

The black market supply of pharmaceutical products in South East Asia is rife with counterfeit and expired medicines. 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 advanced antibiotics like Gentamacin, Lincomycin, Moxifloxacin (amongst a host of others) directly off the shelves of pharmacies and clinics. 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.

Black market supply of pharmaceuticals is 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 existing products, yet very few pharmaceutical companies are taking this issue seriously. Don’t let your product or industry face consequences as severe as this: get on the front foot and control any breaches of intellectual property.