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Counterfeiter’s Means and Markets Info-Graphic

If you have read any of my previous articles on the problem of counterfeiting you will be familiar with the following statement.

Counterfeiters primarily need two things to be successful – a Means and a Market.

The means is of course the tools, materials, equipment and other capabilities to create counterfeit products and fake pedigree. Means also includes acquiring stolen product and re-inserting it into the legitimate supply chain. The market, or markets, comprise individuals that knowingly or unknowingly trade in counterfeit products. This is a simple explanation that belies the diversity and innovation that is really taking place. However it is foundational to understanding anything and everything that happens in the counterfeiting arena regardless of business sector.

With the above as foundation let’s look at counterfeit pharmaceuticals in greater depth. At the 2014 Partnership for Safe Medicines Interchange in Washington, DC. Timothy Mackey, Assistant Professor at UC San Diego and Director of the Global Health Policy Institute (, presented the data on an interesting research project. Funded by the American Cancer Society and University of California at San Diego Moores Cancer Center, the research analyzed top line data on oncology pharmaceutical counterfeits correlated with US census information on healthcare spending. His team sifted through years of FDA notices on counterfeit incidents – a slightly frustrating and time consuming effort no doubt – and presented results using demographics and healthcare spending density diagrams.

I found the evidence of correlations of counterfeit incidents to areas where healthcare spending is most prominent (in the US) quite illuminating. It supports my argument that counterfeiters target where the market is focused. Conversely links between counterfeit incidents and market demographics that would seem obvious were not supported. A sobering reminder that the data necessary to illustrate a comprehensive picture of what is occurring is in short supply. I also believe it’s helpful to remember that these criminals don’t obey the rules of society, and the more innovative don’t use linear logic.

Professor Mackey was also careful to point out that data is insufficient. To quote his team’s work directly, “FDA warning letters are a poor proxy for assessing impact, but it is the best data we currently have.” His call to action for industry was to gather and report more data on incidents and investigations; and encouraged the FDA to make notices of this type far more accessible for future analysis. I second that call to action of industry and regulators everywhere.

The Networks of Evil

One element of the data analysis was portrayed as a series of network diagrams to illustrate the links between the criminal actors and the members of the US pharmaceutical market. I was struck as to how similar it was to what I had come to understand was the reality from years of exposure to this problem. I had previously created such diagrams to help others understand how the criminals operate.

I provide for you an info-graphic on counterfeit networks in that it may prove valuable in understanding the criminal activity. This diagram is somewhat comprehensive in that it takes into account almost all avenues of ‘means’ and ‘markets’, in this case pharmaceuticals. In reality any single incident of counterfeits will have a far simpler network diagram. But a network it truly is. Rarely have I seen one actor responsible for manufacturing, packaging and distribution of counterfeit products into a legitimate market.

My hope is that this info-graphic gives you and your organization some insight into the networks that do evil instead of good. And, it serves to help you and your team in thinking more appropriately about the criminal activity that is behind counterfeiting products.

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