Jakarta. The national drug administration has announced a new campaign to control the distribution of medicine and stem the circulation of counterfeit drugs.
Lucky S. Slamet, deputy director of the Food and Drug Monitoring Agency (BPOM), said on Monday that of the approximately 7,500 medicines in current circulation in the Indonesian market, counterfeiters were producing copies of up to 20 of the more popular ones.
He said these included “lifestyle medicines” such as Viagra, as well as life-saving drugs such as the antimalarial Fansidar.
“Those products sell very well,” he said. “The counterfeiters make a lot of money, but they overlook the health impact.”
To deal with the issue, he said, the BPOM had set up the National Single Point of Contact, a post within the agency that would be responsible for the national circulation of medicine.
“Besides establishing the SPOC, we’re also campaigning through the media for greater public awareness about counterfeit medicines,” he said.
“We lack the manpower to campaign directly to the public, so we need help from NGOs and the media to run campaigns on how to identify counterfeit medicine. However, it’s possible some people might not be able to make the distinction.”
He added in this case, people should only purchase medicine at authorized places, such as pharmacies or hospitals.
“This is the easiest way to avoid purchasing counterfeit medicine,” Lucky said.
The Indonesian Consumer Protection Foundation (YLKI) says the lost revenue from counterfeit drugs amounts to Rp 2.5 trillion ($280 million) annually.
Tulus Abadi, a YLKI official, said the high cost of patented drugs had provided the opportunity for counterfeiters to flourish with much cheaper knockoffs.
“The government doesn’t provide medicine for free, so when it comes to buying them, most patients opt for the cheaper alternative, which can turn out to be counterfeit,” he said, adding the term “counterfeit” did not necessarily mean a drug had no medicinal properties whatsoever.
“It can be just as potent as the original, albeit imported and distributed illegally,” Tulus said.
Meanwhile, Slamet Budiarto, secretary general of the Indonesian Doctors Association (IDI), accused the government of putting the interests of the legitimate producers above those of consumers in this issue.
He said this was apparent in the Health Ministry’s definition of counterfeit drugs, which makes no mention of harmful ingredients. “It’s fine as long as there aren’t any harmful ingredients in the drugs, but what if there are such ingredients, which can delay the healing process or even cause death?” he said.
He added there was also no official data on deaths caused by the use of counterfeit medicine in the country.
Puspo Sumadi, country manager for US pharmaceutical company Eli Lilly, called for harsher punishment for drug counterfeiters.
“I hope the government changes the laws dealing with drug counterfeiters, because in addition to threatening lives, they also cause losses to the state,” he said.
According to World Health Organization statistics, 10 percent of medicines sold worldwide are fake; while in Indonesia, that figure is closer to 25 percent, as stated in a US Trade Representative report.
The WHO also estimates some 200,000 people die worldwide every year because of the problem.