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The falsification of medical products is a crime affecting all regions of the world and addressing it requires greater cooperation along the entire supply chain.

To support countries in enacting or strengthening domestic legislation in this area and in protecting public health, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) launched the ‘Guide to Good Legislative Practices on Combating Falsified Medical Product-Related Crime’ at a side event held jointly with Argentina, Belgium and France at the recent 28th Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice.

According to the limited number of studies on the magnitude of the problem, organized criminal groups engage in crime related to falsified medical products using the same routes and techniques employed in the trafficking in other illicit commodities.

They exploit gaps and discrepancies in national legislation and criminal justice systems, use new technologies and platforms such as darknet sites to traffic in falsified medical products and avoid detection by law enforcement authorities. Falsified medical product-related crime has a multidimensional impact that includes health, economic and socioeconomic consequences.

John Brandolino, Director of the UNODC Division for Treaty Affairs, explained that “falsified medical product-related crimes occur along a supply chain that runs from the manufacturer of the falsified medical product to distributors and sellers – in other words traffickers – and, ultimately, the end consumer.”

The side event highlighted two cases which illustrated the involvement of transnational organized criminal groups in crime related to falsified medical products, and the practical use of the Guide in such contexts. The transnational nature of the issue was also demonstrated in a case that involved 13 countries across Asia, the Middle East, Europe and Africa, in which life-saving medicines were falsified and that led to three convictions.

Countries face numerous challenges in effectively combating crime related to falsified medical products, including weak or inconsistent legal frameworks and the lack of regulations to address online and distance selling of medical products. In its resolution 20/6, the Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice encouraged Member States to counter falsified medicines by reviewing and updating their legal and regulatory frameworks as necessary, and to ensure that they do not overlook any stage in the supply chain.

UNODC developed the guide with financial support of France and contributions of numerous experts from all continents and of the Council of Europe, the Economic Community of West African States, the European Union, the International Council of Nurses, the International Criminal Police Organization (INTERPOL), the New Partnership for Africa’s Development, the World Customs Organization and the World Health Organization.

States can use the Guide as a practical tool as they draft, amend or review relevant national legislation. Intellectual property rights are specifically excluded from the ambit of this Guide. It is hoped that this Guide will contribute to an increased number of national and international investigations and prosecutions of falsified medical product-related crime, which remains a “high profit low risk sector” for criminals.

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