BEIRUT: The Health Ministry recalled over a dozen kinds of medication late last month after they were discovered to be counterfeit, but many of the fake medications are still circulating in the market, according to a prominent health industry figure.
According to decision 1/300 issued on Jan. 28, 13 types of drugs were singled out. The Health Ministry also asked pharmacies, distributors and importers to report any of the 13 drugs on the recall list.
The list includes Xanax, a batch of which was recently seized by authorities, as well as Viagra, Stilnox, Lorazepam and Dormicum.
Former MP Ismael Sukkarieh, a doctor and a longtime advocate of tightening national controls on medication, said counterfeit drugs were being smuggled through land, sea and even by air.
“Smuggling is the trend now,” he said, especially because “these medicines are expensive and small in size.”
According to Sukkarieh, the fake drugs are able to enter the country due to weak regulations and border control. The central lab, where drugs are supposed to be tested by law, is also largely inactive, he said. “The entire process is chaotic.”
In this manner, the fake drugs easily make their way to pharmacies and consumers.
“The problem is that, sometimes, there’s no way of knowing if the drugs are counterfeit,” Sukkarieh said. “If the packaging is the same, you can’t know, only the central lab can know [through testing].”
According to the law, each drug that enters Lebanon must undergo testing at the central lab for quality and safety.
Sukkarieh says some drugs enter the country without passing through inspection at the Health Ministry, which is supposed to register all medicines.
Local pharmaceutical sales representatives in Lebanon also don’t know whether the drugs are counterfeit, Sukkarieh added.
Fake drugs are usually less effective than the real product, because unlicensed producers often cut costs by putting small amounts of the active ingredient in each pill.
The process of importing drugs requires that traders name the manufacturer of the drug and its date of production, among other things, to a technical committee in the ministry. The committee then studies the documents and takes samples of the drug for testing.
Central labs are supposed to test these samples and give the green light to pharmacies for selling purposes.
“This does not happen properly here, since there is no central lab,” Sukkarieh said. “Sometimes there are medications that are registered within an hour, others that are never registered, even a year later – it’s very chaotic.”
“Sometimes there are 500, 600, even 700 types of medication being registered in a year. How are their papers being studied this quickly?”
Fake drugs can have disastrous effects on the user, depending on his condition and health, as well as the doses he or she takes.
Sukkarieh also said that there were many other types of faulty medication being sold in pharmacies, including hormonal drugs, anti-coagulants and antibiotics. “Some have been withdrawn from the world market, but are still found in Lebanon,” he said. “Some are even expired, but their dates have been changed.”
Sukkarieh said he had little hope for reform. “It has been an issue for 20 years.”