Have you ever wondered about the statement that "10% of all drugs worldwide are counterfeit"?
The 10% figure has been cited by the World Health Organization (WHO), which has become the de facto source for the statistic. Just about every technology vendor involved in pharmaceutical supply chain security still touts the 10% figure as often as possible.
Alas, it turns out that the 10% figure has no factual basis in reality. Carl Bialik, the Wall Street Journal's Numbers Guy, published a fantastic piece of journalism this weekend entitled Counterfeit Drug Count Is Tough to Swallow. You should also read Dubious Origins for Drugs, and Stats About Them from The Number Guy's blog for some additional background.
The lesson? Always check the references. And don't believe everything you hear from technology vendors.
Here is a the key section from Mr. Bialik's article:
"The 10% figure appears to have surfaced initially in a 2002 editorial in the British Medical Journal, which reported that 'the World Health Organization estimates that 10% of global pharmaceutical commerce is in fakes.' The article attributed the WHO estimate to a study published in 1999 on counterfeit drugs in Myanmar and Vietnam. For the study, WHO researchers tested samples of 500 drugs, specifically selected because they were considered particularly susceptible to counterfeiting. A little over one in 10 didn't contain the labeled amount of active ingredient. But the paper made no claim about the overall counterfeiting rate in those countries, let alone world-wide...His 2002 editorial was picked up by several major news organizations, and soon 10% became a commonly accepted figure, attributed to WHO. The health agency itself included the estimate in several statements and fact sheets. The FDA, meanwhile, cited the 10% figure in a 2004 report, attributing it to WHO. Spokeswomen for both organizations say the origin of the figure is unclear.Amazing. IBM is running a new ad stating unequivocally that "10% of the world's medicine is counterfeit, affecting over a billion people a year." Yikes! An executive at another technology vendor published an article in August claiming that the WHO estimate was "conservative." I guess scare tactics still work.
Thankfully, counterfeit drugs are still extremely rare in the United States even as the global problem seems to be growing. But the potent mix of greed and diversion still creates potential problems as I note recently regarding products stolen from GlaxoSmithKline and Shire.
My philosophy in writing this blog can be summed up with a quote from the late Senator Patrick Moniyhan: “Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts.” I am opposed to unsupported accusations, overwrought hyperbole, or just plain misrepresentation. Careful readers will notice that I always try to include links to source materials so that you can make up your own.
Never uncritically accept any statistic...even if you read it on Drug Channels!