Authorities in Colombia and Venezuela have dismantled a group dedicated to the production and trafficking of costly false medicines between the two countries, in a case highlighting both the dangers posed by this trade and the lucrative nature of such schemes.
Over the course of the operation, which has involved various raids, a total of 25 people have been arrested — 14 in Colombia and 11 in Venezuela. Police also seized 90,000 pills, 21,629 packages and over 10,000 labels, reported EFE.
According to the director of Colombia’s criminal investigations police (DIJIN), General Jorge Enrique Rodriguez, the band operated by altering already expired medicines, and also put fake batch numbers on medicines they fabricated. Among the falsified pharmaceuticals were medicines used to treat serious illnesses such as cancer, AIDS and epilepsy.
The medicines being altered, said investigators, were provided by corrupt high-level health center personnel in various Venezuelan cities.
After manufacturing the medicines in the state of Tachira, the group would cross over into Colombia’s Norte de Santander department to pack them and give them false labels and expiration dates. They then distributed them in Venezuela and in major Colombian cities, including capital Bogota.
The counterfeit medicine trade in Colombia — which includes expired, falsely labeled and fake drugs — is immense. In 2012 and the first half of 2013, authorities seized some five million units of such pharmaceuticals, which they say can be sold with profit margins of up to 1,000 percent.
Venezuela is one of the primary suppliers of these illegal medicines in Colombia. This is likely facilitated by the long established contraband routes running between the two countries, with other products smuggled across the border including booze, cigarettes and perishable food items.
Peru and Ecuador are also important sources of counterfeit medicines sold in Colombia, as highlighted by a 2012 Caracol special.
According to the World Health Organization, 10 percent of medicines sold commercially in the world are false. In Latin America, the proportion is thought to be around 30 percent. Paraguay is another country that has battled with the trade, particularly in the smuggling hub of the Triple Frontier region, while Costa Rica saw a spike in counterfeit medicines trafficked in from Nicaragua last year.
The trade can have devastating health effects on users — according to international police body Interpol, one million people in the world die each year as a result of using counterfeit drugs.