Wednesday, 24 February 2010


Two posts in one day! The last one segwayed neatly into the current ACTA stuff ... it has been brought to my attention that ACTA has implications for Pharmac, and NZ's health sector in general, as well as software freedom.

The issue is that we allow cheap generics. This is the true genesis for the counterfeiting part of ACTA - the original motivations came from pharmaceutical companies.

In the USA, international generics are considered "counterfeit drugs" in that they don't pay any US company for the privilege of saving lives. You can buy a common, branded drug in Canada, drive across the border into the US, and it may be confiscated at customs. So if you rely on generics to keep you alive, don't travel to the USA.

(Outterson, Kevin and Smith, Ryan, Counterfeit Drugs: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. Law Journal of Science and Technology, Vol. 15, 2006)

BBC Documentary The Fake Trade aired late night in NZ a while back also had a segment on counterfeit drugs where it is asserted, without examination, that they are harmful because they are outside the brand owners' quality control. Trouble is, such fake drugs also save hundreds of thousands of lives worldwide when the quality control part is no longer the sole preserve of the originating company. Everyone in NZ has benefited from them at some time.

There are fake drugs: properly, these are where a shady dealer misuses branded packaging to pass off some other substance as a well known drug. It will look just like the factory product, but is actually a placebo, or worse, another drug. The counterfeiting laws need to distinguish between this practise and a real drug being manufactured and sold without a license from its patent holder, but without pretending to.

There are also fake drugs in the sense of those herbal products which claim drug-like powers. Some even claim to be better than regular pharmacy drugs. The problem is so serious that some countries have enacted laws which require herbal supplement vendors to substantiate their claims in double-blind trials. You can tell the fakes: they are the ones complaining of a conspiracy to suppress "natural" or "alternative" treatments.

Generic drugs do not claim to be a well known brand. They just claim to be themselves. Compare Neurofen with Pams Ibuprofen. Currently, some drugs that can be purchased for NZ$40 in NZ cost as much as US$140 when purchased in the US.

These are areas where the 'counterfeiting' side of ACTA will have real, easily understood, impact on quality of life in NZ. Pharmac purchases are taxpayer subsidized - either taxes will go up, some public services will be cut, or the cost of drugs will increase.

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