Fake Medicine: A Global and Growing Nightmare


(DGIwire) – The scourge of counterfeit medicine sales has invaded call centers in the Philippines. As recently reported in The Australian, a police raid on one call center in Manila uncovered a product manual that schooled operators about Viagra and other medicines, a script telling customers they would receive the highest standard of pharmaceutical care, and a handwritten ledger detailing feedback from U.S. callers.

It looked the same as any other call center, but was selling fake drugs, said chief inspector Jay Guillermo of the Philippine police’s cybercrime group. The center’s office was festooned with dollar signs strung from the ceiling and posters urging operators to “Keep calm and sell more.

As increasing numbers of people order and renew prescriptions online and over the phone, counterfeiters—like legitimate sellers—are turning to call centers for customer service, according to The Australian. That has brought the action to the Philippines, the world’s biggest employer of call-center operators—most offering legitimate services.

Like their legitimate counterparts, operators selling counterfeit pharmaceuticals take orders, renew prescriptions, answer questions and try to sell more products. Often, they make commissions from the sale of the drugs; they may not know they are pitching counterfeit products, The Australian reports.

Fake drugs are expected to generate $95 billion in global sales this year, up 26 percent from $75 billion in 2010, according to the Center for Medicine in the Public Interest, a New York-based research group.

Enter Applied DNA Sciences. Based in Stony Brook, NY, the company specializes in plant DNA-based markers for identification and tracking of a wide range of products, including pharmaceuticals.

“Our primary directive is the health and safety of the consumer,” says Applied DNA Sciences’ President and CEO, James A. Hayward, Ph.D. “We want to ensure that the right drugs get to the right people.” The company uses one-of-a-kind DNA sequencing on product packaging, which allows for simple scanning at each point of the chain of manufacture and distribution. Each product label is composed of unique plant DNA-based sequencing that is impossible to counterfeit.

Coupled with strong local policing to ensure that dangerous or counterfeit drugs do not reach the market, Applied DNA’s technology could go a long way toward eliminating the scourge of dangerous fake medications.