Authorities in Paraguay have dismantled a third laboratory in three months dedicated to producing counterfeit pharmaceuticals, highlighting an illicit domestic trade that officials say makes up to 30 percent of the medicine sales in the country.
The most recent laboratory was found in the Loma Pyta neighborhood of Paraguay's capital, Asuncion. Police arrested the owner of the home where the laboratory was located, and seized various tablets, boxes and machinery, some stamped with the logo of the Institute of Social Care (IPS), the country's social security body, reported ABC.
Police also found evidence of the falsification of products such as Viagra and Cytotec -- a pill that can be used as emergency contraception -- along with documents and receipts that may help identify the companies that provided the raw materials for the false medicines.
According to investigators, the detainee had been operating for years, using a network of contacts to distribute his products in the capital and throughout the country. He is believed to have enjoyed the complicity of local officials.
Following the discovery, Luis Avila of the Chamber of the Pharmaceutical Industry (CIFARMA) told Canal 100 that 30 percent of medicine sold in Paraguay was illicit, reported ABC. He said black market sales networks were composed of 12 to 15 people, involved in both distribution and logistics.
InSight Crime Analysis
In June last year, Paraguay's prosecutor general warned that the country's counterfeit drug trade was controlled by criminal organizations that used the profits to finance other crimes. According to CIFARMA, the Triple Frontier region -- where Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay share borders -- is particularly important to the trade in false medicines. This poorly policed and corrupt region is a major hub for contraband and narcotics moved between the three countries, making it a prime location for counterfeit pharmaceutical sales.
The belief official collusion helped the suspect in the current case operate with impunity points to high levels of corruption in Paraguay, a country where the president himself has faced accusations of drug trafficking ties.
SEE ALSO: Coverage of Paraguay
False pharmaceuticals are a major problem throughout Latin America, with up to 30 percent of drugs available in the region estimated to be counterfeit. Last year, Colombia's customs chief said the trade is potentially as lucrative as narcotics trafficking. The accompanying health risks are clear: false medicines kill over 1 million people in the world each year, according to the international police body Interpol.