EDITORIAL: More can be done to source quality drugs
IT IS GRATIFYING to hear from the head of the Barbados Pharmaceutical Society, Paul Gibson, that only quality drugs are being sold on the island. This is good news given the importance of drugs in curing various ailments. However, despite Mr Gibson’s assurance, there will be sceptics, given what has been transpiring worldwide with counterfeiting of prescription drugs.
We do not expect that our system would fail us as was the case in Nigeria eight years ago when 84 children died after taking a counterfeit syrup, My Pikin Baby Teething Mixture. The medicine was said to look and tasted like the real thing, but did not produce the expected results. This deadly outcome highlighted the problem fake medicine causes – since there is no way to know whether it is good or bad before taking it.
While the Barbados Drug Service can police most of the drugs on sale on the island, it does not have complete control. The purchase of drugs via the internet, whether in a single dose or small quantities, is a new reality and there is no guarantee that fake drugs cannot enter the market via this route.
The real problem, and something Mr Gibson did not seem to address in any significant way, is the growing and worrisome trend of counterfeiting in the international prescription drugs trade. This issue has become a cross-border problem and calls for effective regulations, strong institutions, intellectual property rights enforcement, well-trained customs officers and law courts all working to end this scourge. But even with all these things in place, it has been acknowledged that regulation is not going to be the solution, even with its critical role in undertaking extensive market surveillance and setting of standards.
While we tend to use drugs that are approved by the US Food and Drug Administration and those which meet international best practices, there is that need to shop around for quality generic drugs. This means looking to places that may not fall under the control of the FDA. The cost of brand name drugs is a very expensive exercise and, despite their best efforts, even the big international drug manufacturers are not always able to protect their brands from the counterfeiters and defend their reputations for consistently producing high quality products.
This is why the Drug Service must consider always being proactive in defending the concerns of the Barbadian public. It should publish any drug it pulls from the market; outline its response to the challenges the internet poses and how it has prepared customs officers to stamp out counterfeit drugs entering this country at the air and sea ports and even through the postal services.
Barbados continuously needs to access quality drugs but this cannot be left only to the Drug Service and should also engage the pharmaceutical industry through meaningful partnerships. The country also needs to do much more in testing as well as research and development.