A Mexican senator has proposed tougher punishment for the illegal production and theft of medicine, as part of a renewed attempt to constrain the country’s booming black market for pharmaceutical products.
Under the proposal by Senator Ricardo Monreal, those found guilty of falsifying, contaminating or altering medication would face a prison sentence of up to 30 years and a potential fine of 11 million pesos ($573,000). His proposal would also see those convicted of stealing medicinal products serve up to ten years behind bars.
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By increasing legal sanctions against those involved in the medicinal black market, Monreal hopes to mitigate a clandestine epidemic which is damaging both Mexican public health and the broader economy.
According to the Mexican Association of Pharmaceutical Research Industries (Asociación Mexicana de Industrias de Investigación Farmacéutica - AMIF), 60 percent of medication sold in the country is either stolen, expired, falsified or produced without meeting minimum quality requirements.
Jalisco, Michoacán, Puebla, Mexico City and Nuevo León, are the five states in which citizens are most likely to encounter illegally fabricated or stolen medicine.
InSight Crime Analysis
Mexican healthcare authorities have struggled to contain the falsification, theft and sale of illegal medicine for years. The high cost of legal medicine and the limited impact of government efforts to clamp down on clandestine sellers have created an environment in which criminal groups can operate with impunity.
These groups sell stolen or counterfeit drugs online or in street markets, sometimes up to six times cheaper than legal medicine, and without prescription. Void of stringent regulations, street sellers make no attempt to conceal the serial numbers of stolen products and often sell medication with no packaging or expiration date.
Strategies to contain this illegal economy have centered around on seizures and locating websites selling illegal drugs. Between 2011 and 2017, federal authorities seized 537 tons of medication, including a record haul of 166 tons in Zapopan, Jalisco, in November 2013.
In addition, the Federal Commission for the Protection against Sanitary Risk (Comisión Federal para la Protección contra Riesgos Sanitarios – Cofepris) has shut down over 8,500 webpages marketing clandestine medicine.
However, these efforts have failed to stem the growth of the medicinal black market, which doubled in value between mid-2017 and mid-2018 and now represents nine percent of the total value of Mexico’s pharmaceutical market.
Clearly, Monreal believes harsher punishments will deter criminals from entering this illegal economy. But this is a narrow approach that is unlikely to tackle the wider problem of insufficient market regulation for legal medicine.
To this end, Congresswoman Lizette Clavel Sánchez has proposed that Mexico’s health sector should standardize purchasing procedures for pharmaceuticals and create exclusive packaging for genuine medicinal products, with the aim of guaranteeing the quality of medicine and ensuring centralized purchasing points.