When counterfeit goods are mentioned, initial thoughts may be of luxury items such as handbags copied in a far cheaper and more accessible form. Hidden behind such goods is the harm done to rights holders, who have invested time and money developing and producing a product, and the organised crime and downstream harm caused by such counterfeit items. However, other products are also counterfeited and the impact to the consumer can be more immediate and dangerous – electrical goods and pharmaceuticals are two categories that are also frequently copied.

EUROPOL recently coordinated the fourth edition of Operation SHIELD, a global effort to tackle fake pharmaceuticals.  The operation saw 1,284 individuals charged and took fake medicines worth EUR 64 million off EU markets.

The sale of fake pharmaceuticals, and illegal trafficking of pharmaceuticals, continues to be a growing issue and is a significant public health problem.

The Internet remains an enticing outlet for suppliers of counterfeit goods and social media is a current popular forum for selling counterfeit and illegally sold medicines. Of key importance is educating users of social media, particularly younger generations, on the significant safety risks associated with sourcing pharmaceuticals outside the legitimate supply chain. As consumers, it is key that we question what the item is and where it has come from.

Brand owners should seek to protect and enforce their trade mark rights to help curb the proliferation of counterfeit products worldwide and protect consumers. 

The EUROPOL press release makes for impressive reading but the fight against counterfeiters is ongoing. Vigilance by consumers and brand owners, and protection of important intellectual property, are key.