By JESSICA GUERRERO
MORELIA, Michoacán — In the last two years, the pharmaceutical industry in the world has had to work at a forced march. The excessive demand for medical supplies and the extreme pressure for the creation of drugs for a virus that was then technically new to humanity impacted the global production line of drugs.
This pandemic also brought to light some of the great obstacles and disadvantages faced in certain regions in the world with the distribution of medicines and medical supplies, mainly due to an economic inequality that is often related to limited access to basic health services and high mortality rates.
In particular, the public health sector in Mexico has historically faced a severe shortage of some of the most important drugs for common health issues, such as high blood pressure and diabetes, which afflicts at least 13 millions of Mexicans. Diabetes itself causes at least 80,000 deaths in Mexico every year, being considered since 2016 a national health emergency by the Mexican government.
Likewise, an increased incidence of cancer and an array of cardiovascular diseases have triggered an overwhelming demand for medicines and health services in general that have exceeded the capacity of the Mexican state to cover such needs.
This crisis, caused by the shortage of medicines in the country, has represented an attractive business opportunity for some criminal groups that operate mainly in the center of the country, These groups have designed a complex structure for the production and distribution of counterfeit drugs nationwide.
Some of the techniques used by these criminals involve the relabeling and repackaging of expired medications and the distribution of batches of adulterated and contaminated medications. Such drugs are often so meticulously disguised that it is almost impossible for consumers to identify their legitimacy at first glance.
Despite the fact that these drugs are often sold on the black market, their sale and distribution have also been reported in several pharmacy chains that operate in the country in private and even public clinics and hospitals. This situation represents a great risk to the health of Mexicans, who use these drugs, often without any knowledge that they are counterfeit.
In recent months, the Federal Commission for the Protection against Sanitary Risks (Cofepris) has detected numerous counterfeit medicines used for various diseases such as arthritis, viral diseases, respiratory failure, liver disease, and autoimmune and ophthalmological diseases.
Some of the most important drugs on the Mexican black market are those related to the treatment of chronic-degenerative diseases such as cancer and diabetes, which, due to their high demand, are often in short supply in government and private pharmacies. This is especially dangerous for patients with these diseases, whose health condition totally depends on the effectiveness and continuity of their treatments.
The counterfeiting of pharmaceutical products and their sale on the black market affects not only the economy and the local pharmaceutical industry, but also puts the health of the Mexican population at considerable risk. Likewise, the compounds used in these drugs can be harmful or toxic to health.
Despite all this, the market for counterfeit drugs in Mexico continues to grow. According to figures from the National Chamber of the Pharmaceutical Industry (Canifarma), 6 percent of the medicines sold in the Mexican market are counterfeit.
Globally, Mexico also ranks sixth in the production and sale of counterfeit drugs. This illegal activity generates around 16 billion pesos in annual profits for the criminals involved in the manufacture, distribution and commercialization of these substances.
Faced with this problem, Cofepris has published a list of establishments that distribute medicines that do not comply with the regulation and published a health alert for possible risks to people’s health. This list currently contains 44 establishments, and according to the results of the continuous investigations of Cofepris, it will be permanently updated.
Most of the seizures of counterfeit drugs by Cofepris have been reported in Jalisco, Michoacán, the State of Mexico, Yucatán and Baja California.
It is especially in the city of Guadalajara, capital of the state of Jalisco, where the largest seizures of counterfeit drugs have been made by Mexican authorities. El Santuario neighborhood, located in that city, stands out since it is where the government has seized at least 100 tons of these products since 2011.
According to investigations and complaints collected by Mexico’s Attorney General’s Office (FGR), behind the high incidence of this activity in the state of Jalisco is the criminal group that predominates in that state, the Jalisco New Generation Cartel (CJNG) which is allegedly involved in the manufacturing and trading of these counterfeit drugs.