Counterfeit medicines are on the rise, according to data from the Pharmaceutical Security Institute. As the following chart shows, nearly 6,000 pharmaceutical crime incidents were recorded by the nonprofit in 2021, up 38 percent from the year before and the peak figure since their records began 20 years ago.
In terms of the geographical distribution of counterfeit pharmaceutical seizures, the greatest number was recorded in North America (2,442) followed by the Asia Pacific (1,747), Latin America (770), the Near East (705), Eurasia (646), Europe (374) and Africa (187). This order is largely due to how well countries in these regions are effectively identifying pharmaceutical crime through law enforcement activity and inspections by drug regulatory agencies. As the PSI notes, competing law enforcement priorities, lack of funding, or inadequate regulatory structures can mean that counterfeit medicines go undetected.
According to the World Health Organization, roughly 10 percent of medical products circulating in low- and middle-income countries are substandard or falsified. In sub-Saharan African nations, this share is believed to be even higher, rising closer to 19-50 percent. With this in mind, the actual number of incidents of fake pharmaceuticals being manufactured and distributed is likely far higher than this chart shows, considering the many cases where fake drugs have not been detected or reported.
One reason cited for the surge in the volume of fake or defective pharmaceuticals is the increase of online pharmacies.