European Alliance for Safe Access to Medicines

The European Alliance for Access to Safe Medicines (EAASM) is a pan-European, not-for-profit patient safety organisation with the vision that every European person will be aware of the dangers of counterfeit medicines across the European community by 2015.

The objectives of the EAASM are to:

• raise public awareness of all the dangers of counterfeit and sub-standard medicines

• create a call to action for improved legislation, enforcement and patient’s right for safe medicines

• input into existing anti-counterfeiting initiatives where appropriate

• contribute to European health literacy.

Evidence collected by the EAASM over a number of years has convinced EFNA of the need to work towards protecting those affected by brain disorders from the dangers of the growing counterfeit medicine industry. We are currently represented on the Board of EAASM by our Vice-President Cathalijne van Doorne.

For example, in 2008 the EAASM undertook a covert operation and ordered over 30 medicines from various websites. These were selected on the basis of certain criteria, such as a functioning telephone helpline number and a physical address suggesting real premises that could be traced. Of the pharmacy websites selected, not one asked for a prescription and 62% of the medicines the EAASM received were fake or sub-standard. The ‘medicines’ arrived from locations as far afield as China, Fiji, Vanuatu and India, in various wrappers – including the sports pages of the Mumbai News!

To highlight the rapid increase of counterfeits coming in to Europe, in 2007 the EAASM commissioned a report by Dr Jonathan Harper (a prominent academic and commentator on supply chain security, who had just recently completed a report for the Council of Europe). His 104 page document enabled the EAASM to campaign for strengthened EU legislation, culminating in a new Falsified Medicines Directive being passed.

The Directive should mean that once the law is enacted (which may not become obligatory until at least 2015), each pharmaceutical pack will have to carry a unique identifying code that can be authenticated at the point of dispensing. This, of course, has far-reaching implications for all the pan-European supply chain systems as it will add complexity. But it will also add a much greater degree of patient safety. In addition, the packs will have to contain a tamper-evident safety feature. The issue of illegitimate online medicine-sellers will also be addressed by the Directive, but education and raising awareness remain the key to limiting risk in this context.

Educating patients as to the risks presented by purchasing and consuming counterfeit medicines fits with EFNA’s strategy of empowering patients through health literacy. It seems that the main reasons people go online to purchase their medications include convenience, to save time and to save money, not realising that in so doing they risk their health whilst also supporting criminal activity.

For more information, see: www.eaasm.eu