SENATE President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto has formally asked for a Senate probe into the “presence and prevalence” of counterfeit drugs in the Philippines after a United Nations agency tagged it as having the “highest incidence” of fake medicines in Southeast Asia.
In a Senate resolution, Recto said the country “being depicted as a hotspot for knockoff drugs” in the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) 2019 report on “Transnational Organized Crime in Southeast Asia: Evolution, Growth and Impact” is a cause for “alarm and action.”
Citing UNODC’s findings, Recto said that from 2014 to 2017, fake medicines, mostly from Pakistan, India and China reportedly entered the Philippines through an illicit trade network.
On top of this is the reported market penetration of locally-manufactured counterfeit over-the-counter medicines, Recto said.
Recto said government should unmask which of “these misbranded, spurious, fake, and falsely-labeled drugs” have entered the market and have duped Filipinos.
“In 2018, no less than President Duterte described the availability of counterfeited paracetamol brands in the country as a growing threat and ordered the arrest of their makers and sellers,” Recto said in his resolution.
He said if reports are true that fake medicines are sold for lower prices at sari-sari stores, “then they are victimizing the poor who often have to borrow money to buy medicines or cost-cut by buying doses lower than what the doctor has prescribed.”
Recto said the trade in fake medicines is “a large scale swindle of the cruelest kind,” as their victims are of the illusion that they are taking authentic medicines that will cure them “and not something made of flour.”
“Hindi lahat ng drug dealers shabu ang ibinibenta. Ang iba, pekeng gamot sa infection, rabies, TB, cancer, ubo at lagnat ang inilalako,” Recto said.
Recto said the staggering amount of money Filipinos spend yearly for medicines and pharmaceutical preparations should prod the government to protect their health and money.
About P187 billion, or half of the P372.8 billion “out-of-pocket” health expenditures of Filipino families in 2017 went to pharmacies.
“Households buy half a billion pesos worth of drugs a day. Hindi pa kasama ang binibili ng mga pribadong ospital, gobyerno at insurance companies na nasa bilyun-bilyong piso din ang halaga taun-taon,” he said.
Recto said the Senate investigation’s aim “is to know the gravity of the problem and formulate remedial measures that will strengthen the capacity of the Food and Drug Administration and all law enforcement agencies to defeat this problem.”