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Interpol, firms join in fight against fake drugs

Interpol president Mireille Ballestrazzi (right) chatted with Argentine Ambassador Eugenio Maria Curia (left) and World Customs Organization head Kunio Mikuriya.

DIETER NAGL/AFP/GETTY IMAGES

Interpol president Mireille Ballestrazzi (right) chatted with Argentine Ambassador Eugenio Maria Curia (left) and World Customs Organization head Kunio Mikuriya.

NEW YORK — More than two dozen of the world’s largest pharmaceutical companies have agreed to provide funding and other support to Interpol’s battle against counterfeit prescription drugs, the international police agency said Tuesday.

Interpol’s newly created Pharmaceutical Crime Program aims to help health agencies, police, and customs bureaus in countries around the globe stem the supply of bogus brand name and generic medicines, and identify and dismantle the organized crime rings distributing them.

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Those rings, which operate across borders, are raking in billions of dollars every year, costing legitimate drugmakers a small fortune in lost sales. Patients who unknowingly take counterfeit drugs often are poisoned or get sicker. Specialists estimate hundreds of thousands of people around the world die because of counterfeit medicines each year.

The pharmaceutical companies have pledged nearly $5.9 million over three years to help Interpol with efforts including training local law enforcement officials on investigative procedures, evidence handling, and how to better work with partners outside their countries.

Interpol also will help those authorities build up their infrastructure and target enforcement actions against crime rings that make and sell fake drugs and divert medication illegally to countries where it’s not approved.

‘‘We will develop a program according to what is best for the international community and what will save lives,’’ said Aline Plancon, head of Interpol’s counterfeiting and pharmaceutical crime program.

‘‘It’s been difficult for us as Interpol to sustain our activities’’ against counterfeiting over the years, she said, because the agency’s limited resources also are needed for areas the global community sees as more serious crimes. Those include human trafficking, narcotics, terrorism, and money laundering.

The pharmaceutical companies, most of which spend millions on their own investigations to fight counterfeiting of their medicines, will also step up the sharing with Interpol of intelligence they uncover.

Plancon said her agency, based in Lyon, France, plans to better coordinate its work and collaborate with its member countries. Interpol also will run pilot projects, experimenting with new strategies to find ways to be more effective.

The industry support ‘‘forms a bridge between the public and private sectors and will assist Interpol and each of its 190 member countries to more effectively tackle the problem of medical product counterfeiting,’’ Interpol secretary general Ronald K. Noble said in a statement.

The World Health Organization estimates sales of medicines that are counterfeit, contaminated, or otherwise illegal total $430 billion a year. In developing nations, up to 50 percent of the medicines may be fake.

In the United States, three times in the last year fake versions of the Roche Group cancer drug Avastin have been sold to clinics and hospitals. An unknown amount of those fakes was administered to patients. In Pakistan last year, 109 heart patients died after taking counterfeit medicine.

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