About once every two months Panama’s National Customs Authority (ANA) has finds a container with stolen or smuggled counterfeit drugs.
The problem, according to the authority’s director, Gloria Moreno, is that for every one discovered, at least another 20 containers with irregularities could reach their destination and the Ministry of Health lacks staff to address thes problem.
"In a meeting with the U.S. Department of Energy they told us that no country has the ability to scan 100% of the containers passing through its ports) The most I could get scanned was between 2% and 5%, " Moreno told La Prensa
Last year, according to figures from the Comptroller General of the Republic, 6.6 million containers passed through the Panama ports. Of these the ANA scanned 18,000. Moreno, who practiced medicine before taking charge of customs, is concerned about the current level of counterfeiting, smuggling and theft of drugs in Panama.
Meanwhile, the Ministry of Health (MoH) has 80 technicians whose function is related to registration, pharmacological vigilance and inspection of products sold in the country.
"Our inspectors are moved daily to the various state and private pharmacies, shops, convenience store, grocery stores and checking the labeling of drugs, cosmetics, pesticides and other products. said Eric Conte, director of Pharmacy and Drugs.
While the staff has almost doubled in the last two years: "We need more workers to cover all of the Republic, especially the border area," he says.
The MoH has two trained technicians working in Santiago, Veraguas province and another in Colon.
There are plans to create another technical office in Santiago to meet the needs of the central provinces.
According to statistics cited by Conte, his office participated in last year the detection of three cases of counterfeit drugs (Viagra and Aposildenafilo). In 2010 there were seven and in 2009, five cases.
While the ANA speak of irregularities found in shipments with sexual enhancers, antibiotics, antipyretic and hypotensive agents in the MoH the variety is not as wide.
"We found in retail outlets, drugs used for erectile dysfunction, which by its nature and price are attractive to counterfeiters. In other countries there are cases of adulteration of blood pressure abd cancer medications, vitamins, vaccines, hormones and others, which to date have not been identified in Panama, "explains Conte.
Most counterfeit drugs detected in Panam come from China and Malaysia.
When criminals are successful, the consequences of their actions are reflected in the health of patients and in the pockets of companies legally incorporated, says Vilma Turner, president of the National College of Pharmacists.
The counterfeiters are increasingly refining their procedures and makes it more difficult for patients to note counterfeiting.
"The technology of persons engaged in this malpractice is quite advanced, with the impression of 'logos' and text very similar to the original products," she said."The recommendation to patients is that they acquire their drugs only in pharmacies … Do not buy from street vendors or online,
“The various pharmacies operating in the country are willing to problems related to drugs of dubious origin.
Verzbolovskis Lucas, president of the Association of Representatives and Distributors of Pharmaceutical Products, explains that this union is aware that the authorities had detected "infrequently" medicines with irregularities. "Maybe two or three times a year."
"That may be called little, but it's really too much, because a single shipment to Panama, made illegally or incorrectly like that used by the Social Security Fund to make cough syrup, can do so much damage," he said referring to the case of diethylene glycol which was used in cough syrup leading to the death and serious injury of over 200 patients.
To Verzbolovskis, the risk of irregularities exists not only here but around the world. "It's too high, and any measure taken to prevent it is welcome."