The EU executive’s decision not to legislate against online pharmacies is a major omission in its plans to fight counterfeit medicines, the politicians responsible for pushing a new law through the European Parliament have said.

Speaking at a meeting of industry groups in the European Parliament, German Member of the European Parliament (MEP) Jorgo Chatzimarkakis, said that the online trade in fake medicines is a growing illegal business and its omission from the European Commission’s proposed directive a “weakness.”

The EU ‘pharma package’ of legislation which was unveiled in December 2008 in Brussels focused on three priority areas including protecting the European market from counterfeit medicines, improving pharmacovigilance to reduce the adverse effects of medicine and improving information for patients on prescription medicines.

According to a recent World Health Organisation study, 80% of counterfeit medicines come from the internet. However, the directive failed to mention how to combat the sale of counterfeit drugs online.

Chatzimarkakis said: “I’m not happy that the internet is not mentioned at all by the Commission-they leave it to member states to stop internet sales.”

He also warned that fake drugs are increasingly being channelled through the legal supply chain and recommended that internet drug sales should produce a list of reliable online pharmacies to help consumers avoid illegal medicines.

The leaders praised the EU’s plans for introducing new traceability measures to fight counterfeit medicines but raised concerns over cost and data protection issues.

Hugo Carradina, senior manager of health economic affairs at the European Generic Medicines Association said that less than 1% of Europe’s medicines are counterfeit and urged politicians to be proportionate when amending legislation.

“The safety measures some people are proposing could cost €6.8-€ 12billion-which I’m sure is not proportional. There’s no point trying to kill a mouse with a tank.”

He also called for harmonisation of criminal penalties across the European Union for anyone found guilty of counterfeiting drugs. Some countries, Carradinha said, impose prison sentences but others are too lenient.

European Commission