20 July 2007 - Destination Santé
The Casablanca grocery store drug scandal
The Moroccan police have seized 50,000 boxes of Aspro (aspirin) and effervescent Claradol (a paracetamol-based drug) manufactured by Bayer laboratories. These drugs, stored illegally near the Sidi Moumen district of Casablanca, were illegally supplied to shopkeepers in the country's capital. Including grocers!
The seizure of counterfeit goods is an everyday event. But the seizure of 50,000 boxes of medicine on one single occasion is an event that exposes trafficking on an industrial scale. "The fact is that an illegal drug distribution network exists in Casablanca and that Bayer Laboratories - who manufacture these drugs - are perfectly aware (of its existence)" points out Redouane Al Menjira Saady, president of the Casablanca Pharmacists' Union.
"The seizures of Aspro and Claradol effervescent are so large that only employees with access to the laboratory's storage facilities could account for this level of trafficking. I am talking about several lorries filled with drugs made in Morocco and destined for the local market. So how did they end up in grocery stores? As far as the health of our citizens is concerned, it's a very serious matter".
It is important to remember, once again, that medicines are not just like any other product. It is essential that they are purchased in pharmacies and nowhere else. And certainly not in grocery stores. "The lives of our fellow citizens are at stake!", thunders Redouane Al Menjira Saady. Quality packaging is essential to protect medicines from heat, humidity, sunlight, etc. Using counterfeit medicines, or medicines whose quality has been compromised by incorrect storage or preservation, is running the risk - at best - of therapeutic failure. At worst it could result in toxic effects. And often it can lead to death! While illegal trade in confectionery or trousers is seen as an economic crime, illegal trade in medicines is in very real terms criminal.
Given the scale of the phenomenon, the Casablanca Pharmacists' Union has lodged a complaint against the Bayer Healthcare Laboratories in Morocco. Which is a first. Supported by the authorities, the pharmacists appear to be determined to unmask the guilty parties. And Redouane Al Menjira Saady already has his own ideas on this subject. "All the elements of this case lead towards the same conclusion - only Bayer's own representatives were in a position to sell this quantity of goods to Casablanca shopkeepers". As a result, the Moroccan courts have summoned the president of Bayer Healthcare to explain himself.
For their part, Bayer Laboratories in Switzerland are waiting to see what happens. "Legal proceedings are under way. We are waiting until the investigation stage has been completed before commenting", stated Dr Daniel Hoch, head of communications at the Bayer Consumer Care headquarters in Basel, Switzerland. "On the other hand, it is obvious that we condemn all fraudulent practice in the management of our products".
Morocco is obviously not the only country affected by counterfeit medicines. Worldwide, one medicine in ten is sold illegally. And according to a study by the US Food and Drug Administration, counterfeit preparations account for over 10% of the world market. That's to say, 32 billion dollars of profits each year! And it's not about to end. According to the International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers and Associations,trafficking in medicines is 25 times more profitable than the trade in heroin and 5 times more profitable than the cigarette trade.