Photo illustration by T.B. Beaudeau
  • Photo illustration by T.B. Beaudeau
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Some 10 percent of prescription and over-the-counter drugs sold in Mexico’s domestic market are believed to be of dubious origin, and, in fact, pirated.

This estimate was reported in Tijuana’s daily El Sol de Tijuana and given credence by Enrique Guzmán Sánchez, director of product packaging and processing firm Expo Pack Mexico.

The pirating problem, usually limited to music CDs, movies, video games, and clothing brands, has caught on in the legitimate drug market, according to Guzmán. Even aspirin has been pirated under popular brand names.

Guzmán said that while the usual panopoly of pirated products (DVDs, clothes, and jewelry) are sold at informal markets on the street or at swap meets, the pirated drugs are sold at pharmacies, most typically the small independent pharmacies that one might find in border towns like Tijuana.

Sometimes the pirated drugs are manufactured by outlaw labs whose quality control is lax, and generic compounds may be packaged in counterfeit, lookalike vials, bottles, and boxes bearing logos and labels designed to delude the customer.

Guzmán said that diabetes treatment medications are showing up more and more in the pirated category. The drugs are expensive, and the low price of pirated versions may be difficult to resist. He mentioned that the World Health Organization estimates that up 50 percent of medical drugs sold in developing countries are liable to be pirated or counterfeit.

Manufacturers of legitimate drugs are attempting to combat the problem of the pirate brands by adding more security features to the packaging, such as holograms, bar codes, and manufacturers' data.

Pharmaceutical shoppers would be wise to make their purchases at large pharmacies, check the packaging for security features, and to be suspicious of ultra-low prices on drugs, particularly brand-name ones, Guzman said.

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