Sunday, December 10, 2006

Thank You for Buying Counterfeits

Can’t get enough PDMA news?

Well, head over to Jayne Juvan’s surprisingly readable legal analysis of the recent injunction entitled RX USA Wholesale v. Department of Health & Human Services: A Legal Perspective. Jayne is a fan of yours truly, so allow me to return the compliment and suggest you read her thought-provoking perspective. She concludes: "Despite this victory, the Plaintiffs in this case have a long way to go, as the litigation only began a few months ago and this is only one hurdle among many that the Plaintiffs must overcome."

I was immediately reminded of a scene from the very funny movie Thank You for Smoking in which the main character (a Washington lobbyist) is asked by his son: "Dad, why is American government the best government?" Without looking up, Dad the lobbyist quickly replies:"Because of our endless appeals system." (This is a great DVD and an even funnier book, so make haste and pick it up today.)

More prosaically, I believe that the very concept of “pedigree” may need to be reconsidered. Counterfeits enter via diversion in the secondary market. But counterfeit sellers require counterfeit buyers, a problem that is not directly solved by pedigree requirements of the PDMA.

In Our Demand Side Counterfeit Drug Problem, I describe three rules that must be followed for pedigree to make the supply chain safer:

  1. Pharmacy buyers must demand pedigree documents (electronic or paper) from wholesalers and be able to validate the authenticity of these documents.
  2. Pharmacy buyers must only purchase from wholesale distributors in the “Normal Distribution Channel” or wholesale distributors that are willing and able to supply pedigree.
  3. Consumers must (a) refuse to do business with any pharmacy that does not adhere to the preceding two rules, and (b) be able to validate a pharmacy’s compliance with these rules.
Rules 1 and 2 are on hold, at least outside Florida. Unfortunately, consumers and their political representative seem intent on ignoring rule 3. (See Of Spammers and Senators.)

In response, the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy launched a new website in November called, complete with self-congratulatory press release. Like its PhRMA-sponsored counterpart, the NABP site aims to educate consumers about the dangers of buying counterfeits.

Business Week also jumped on the bandwagon this week with Bitter Pills, an article outlining the dangers of ordering drugs from “shady online marketers.” (Good tip!) Business Week helpfully portrays the sordid world of online pill sales as a cartoon, although I don't think my kids will be seeing that cartoon on Nickelodean following The Fairly Oddparents!

These worthy efforts aim at consumers. But I must note that the NABP and PhRMA sites sidestep the culpability or responsibility for pharmacy buyers to follow safe sourcing practices. Yes, I know that the NABP Model Rules outline various “Criminal Acts” associated with knowingly handling counterfeit drugs. Even legitimate pharmacists sometimes purchase in the secondary market. For example, a 2004 study found that two-thirds of hospital pharmacy directors use secondary wholesalers as a resource to obtain needed supplies during a product shortage. (Source: A research article published in the American Journal of Health-System Pharmacists.)

The industry sites do not help consumers identify legitimate pharmacies nor do they provide a way to validate that a pharmacy is behaving ethically in its sourcing practices. “End-to-end” visibility is a long way off, so we in the industry must confront the pharmacy buyer problem sooner or later, regardless of the endless appeals that are likely to dog the FDA's attempts to implement the PDMA.

1 comment:

  1. Someone suggested that I was too harsh to NABP in this post and pointed me to the NABP's list of Verified Internet Pharmacy Practice Sites™.

    To be honest, I'm a bit underwhelmed. In the 7 years since the program was launched, only 12 sites have been approved. Most are well-known (CVS, Medco, Caremark,, etc.)

    NABP has a wacky website, so I can't provide a link. Just go to and look under "Accredidation Programs"