By Macon Araneta
FilAm Star Correspondent

Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto asked the Senate to investigate the “presence and prevalence” of counterfeit drugs in the Philippines after a United Nations agency tagged it as having the “highest incidence” of fake medicine in Southeast Asia.

In a Senate resolution, Recto said the country “being depicted as a hotspot for knockoff drugs” in the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) 2019 report on “Transnational Organized Crime in Southeast Asia: Evolution, Growth and Impact” is a cause for “alarm and action.”

Citing UNODC’s findings, Recto said that from 2014 to 2017, fake medicine, mostly from Pakistan, India and China reportedly entered the Philippines through an illicit trade network.

On top of this is the reported market penetration of locally-manufactured counterfeit over-the-counter medicines, Recto said.

Recto said the government should unmask which of “these misbranded, spurious, fake, and falsely labeled drugs” have entered the market and misled Filipinos.

“In 2018, no less than President Duterte described the availability of counterfeit paracetamol brands in the country as a growing threat and ordered the arrest of their makers and sellers,” Recto said in his resolution.

He said if reports are true that fake medicine is sold at lower prices in sari-sari stores, “then they are victimizing the poor who often have to borrow money to buy medicine or cost-cut by buying doses lower than what the doctor prescribed.”

Recto said the trade in fake medicine is “a large scale swindle of the cruelest kind,” because the victims think “something made of flour” will cure them.

“Not all drug dealers were selling shabu. Some of them were peddling  fake medicine for infection, rabies, TB, cancer, cough and fever,” Recto said.

Recto said the staggering amount of money Filipinos spend yearly for medicine and pharmaceutical preparations should prod the government to protect their health, safety and money.

About PHP187 billion, or half of the PHP372.8 billion “out-of-pocket” health expenditures of Filipino families in 2017 went to pharmacies.

“Households buy half a billion pesos worth of drugs a day.  This did not even include those bought by private hospitals and (payment to) insurance companies worth billions of pesos yearly,” he said.

Recto said the Senate investigation’s aim “is to know the gravity of the problem and formulate remedial measures that will strengthen the capacity of the Food and Drug Administration and all law enforcement agencies to defeat this problem.”