Falsified medical products pose a considerable public health threat as they can fail to cure, may harm and even kill patients. These threats to public health have led the international community to call for a stronger and more coordinated response. Compounding this public health risk is the fact that the supply chain for medicines operates at a global level, and therefore, a concerted effort at the international level is required to effectively detect and combat the introduction of falsified medical products along this supply chain.
The 20th session of the Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice (CCPCJ) adopted resolution 20/6 on falsified medical products due to concern about the involvement of organized crime in the trafficking in falsified medical products. At the same time, resolution 20/6 highlights the potential utility of the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime (UNTOC) for which UNODC is the guardian, in re-enforcing international cooperation in the fight against trafficking, through, its provisions, inter alia, on mutual legal assistance, extradition and the seizing, freezing and forfeiture of the instrumentalities and proceeds of crime.
As with other forms of crime, criminal groups use, to their advantage, gaps in legal and regulatory frameworks, weaknesses in capacity and the lack of resources of regulatory, enforcement and criminal justice officials, as well as difficulties in international cooperation. At the same time, the prospect of the comparatively low risk of detection and prosecution in relation to the potential income make the production and trafficking in falsified medical products an attractive commodity to criminal groups, who conduct their activities with little regard to the physical and financial detriment, if not the exploitation, of others.
Resolution 20/6 contains nine action points among which paragraph nine requests that UNODC, in cooperation with other United Nations bodies and international organizations, such as the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB), the World Health Organization (WHO), the World Customs Organization (WCO) and the International Criminal Police Organization (ICPO/INTERPOL), as well as relevant regional organizations and mechanisms, national regulatory agencies for medicines and, where appropriate, the private sector, civil society organizations and professional associations, assist Member States in building capacity to disrupt and dismantle the organized criminal networks engaged in all stages of the illicit supply chain, in particular distribution and trafficking, to better utilize the experiences, technical expertise and resources of each organization and to create synergies with interested partners.
While focus has been given to the health and regulatory aspect of this problem, it appears that less attention has been given to the issue from a criminal justice perspective. Given its expertise and work to build effective and transparent criminal justice systems and to support states to prevent and combat all forms of organized crime, UNODC can support the fight against the illicit manufacture and trafficking of falsified medical products in coordination with other stakeholders.
UNODC published in 2019 a Guide to Good Legislative Practices on Combating Falsified Medical Product-Related Crime to support countries in enacting or strengthening domestic legislation in this area and in protecting public health.
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. The guide uses the definition of falsified medical products adopted in 2017 by the World Health Assembly and does not distinguish between generic and originator products. It does not in any way deal with the protection of intellectual property rights but focuses on the protection of public health through a criminal justice response. 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.