Counterfeit, falsified, and substandard drugs are a dangerous threat to people around the world, including Americans. These drugs may include toxins or inert substances that do nothing at all. They may contain too much of an active ingredient or not enough. They may also be copies of prescription drugs or over-the-counter medications, imitating brand name drugs or generics. The people selling counterfeit medicine are depriving patients of life-saving or life-sustaining therapies. They also endanger global health by creating an environment for diseases to become resistant to drugs used to treat them. Given that 80 percent of the active ingredients in medications used in the United States originate abroad, primarily in China and India, we have a vital interest in ensuring the safety of an ever more complex global drug supply chain.
The Department of State engages in the fight against counterfeit medicines using a multi-faceted approach. First, because counterfeiting often occurs where regulations are weak, the State Department has brought foreign drug regulators to the United States and conducted sessions abroad for training and meetings with their U.S. counterparts, from the Departments of Health and Human Services, Justice, and Homeland Security to the U.S. Agency for International Development. These meetings highlight the importance of an interdisciplinary, whole-of-government approach to the combat of counterfeits and provide our foreign partners useful information on best practices, as well as contacts for collaboration.
Second, the State Department recognizes that consumers have a vital role in combating the proliferation of counterfeit medicines. The State Department funds public outreach projects to increase consumer awareness. The funds, which are managed by American embassies overseas, are used to organize workshops, seminars, discussion groups, media campaigns, and distribute publications that cast light on counterfeit and substandard medications and inform the public about how they can protect themselves. For example, the U.S. Embassy in Phnom Penh recently worked with regional governments, industry groups, and NGOs on an awareness campaign that targeted youth through a contest for a counterfeit medicines outreach campaign slogan. They received over 2,000 entries, and posters with the winning slogan will be displayed in pharmacies nationwide.
Third, trafficking in counterfeit medicine is a crime in many countries that undermines confidence in the health sector, threatening the health and safety of individuals, as well as adversely affecting healthcare delivery. Criminals engaged in this illegal activity break local laws protecting the medicine supply and laws that govern commerce across borders.. To continue to address the issue, we are working to enhance current capabilities and collaborate in regional efforts, as well such as the Lower Mekong Initiative. The U.S. government is active in international bodies like the World Health Organization (WHO), which is helping countries worldwide develop stronger regulatory systems. In fact, a U.S. delegation with representatives from the Department of State is attending the 2012 WHO World Health Assembly meeting in Geneva. This year's meeting, taking place May 21-26, will consider a number of items, including a proposal to address counterfeit, falsified, and substandard medications. The U.S. Government is also active in other settings, such as the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum, to exchange best practices among regulators, as well as law enforcement officials.
Finally, in addition to its own initiatives, the Department of State works in partnership with other U.S. government agencies, the health care community, patients, civil society, and the pharmaceutical industry to ensure that patients receive safe medicines and that those who put patients' lives at risk can be prosecuted. There is no simple solution to the issue of counterfeit medicines -- the problem has global dimensions and requires a global, multifaceted, and coordinated approach to stem the flow of these illicit products that endanger lives.