The counterfeit pharmaceutical trade in Colombia could be as profitable as the illegal drugs market, according to Colombia's customs chief, illustrating how organized crime groups are taking advantage of a growing global enterprise thought to be worth billions of dollars.
In the last year and a half, Colombian authorities have seized more than five million units of counterfeit drugs intended for resale, worth a total of more than $2 million, reported Caracol. Gustavo Moreno, director of Colombia's tax and customs police, said profit margins were between 500 and 1,000 percent, making the trade potentially as lucrative as selling illicit drugs.
These counterfeit medications fall into two main categories: contraband and fake, reported Vanguardia. Contraband medication is typically sold under a false label or past its expiration date. Fake drugs, are usually medicine packaging filled with anything from flour to cement. Both have potentially deadly effects.
According to authorities, Panama, Venezuela, Ecuador and Peru are the main countries of provenance for illegal pharmaceuticals trafficked into Colombia. The medications arrive hidden in shipments of other imported goods, usually through La Guajira, Norte de Santander, Nariño, Choco and Valle departments. They are then commonly distributed to shops in "San Andresitos" -- shopping areas offering contraband at heavily discounted prices.
InSight Crime Analysis
Producing or selling fraudulent drugs has become a major criminal enterprise in recent years, responsible for one million global deaths annually, according to world police agency Interpol.
The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) has said that in some parts of Latin America, as much as 30 percent of the drugs available on the market are counterfeit, and the region has the third highest rate of pharmaceutical crime incidents after Asia and Europe, according to the NGO Pharmaceutical Security Institute.
Because pharmaceutical trafficking is a relatively new phenomenon, it is difficult to pinpoint exactly what organizations are behind the trade, but there have been some indications that established criminal organizations are entering the market, particularly in Mexico, which has a thriving trade in exporting illegal pharmaceuticals into the United States.