Spotlight on medical IP theft and prevention: fake drugs can be life-threatening

Knock-off drugs are being developed by criminals and sold to unsuspecting people across the world. It's causing illness and death.

Most software engineers are particularly familiar with issues of intellectual property (IP) theft, because software has been pirated since the very earliest days. The general public became particularly aware of IP theft in the days of Napster, although the methods used by the RIAA and MPAA to counter illegal music sharing were often ill-advised and over the top.

What you may not be aware of is the level of intellectual property theft that exists in the world of medicine. It's not just that knowledge is stolen. Rather, the big risk is that knock-off drugs are being developed by criminals and sold to unsuspecting people across the world. It's causing illness and death.

Imagine, for example, that your dad needs to take an expensive heart drug every day. Failure to comply with the dosage instructions could be dangerous or even fatal. Now, imagine that instead of buying the medicine at the local pharmacy, he ordered it -- for one-tenth the price -- from an online retailer.

Now, imagine that the pills he got look just like what he's been taking. But instead of life-saving drug, the pills are filled with either just a filler or -- as is often the case -- carcinogenic compounds. Now, your dad's life is at risk, and his health is a ticking time bomb. Worse, if he experiences a health issue, his doctor probably won't realize that he's been off his meds.

The counterfeit drug makes it harder to diagnose what's going wrong.

This is the fight that both the U.S. government and industry have been undertaking. Below are three videos. The first two make up the White House Forum on Intellectual Property Theft. They're long, but Attorney General Eric Holder's discussion about drug counterfeiting in the first half hour or so is unnerving.

Following those two videos is a short IBM promotional piece about how IT tech can be used to follow a pill, and make sure what you're taking is actually what your doctor wants you to take.

This is fascinating and disturbing stuff, but well worth learning about. After all, your health could be at risk.

Have you ever been tempted to buy cheap drugs on the Internet? TalkBack below and let us know what you think.



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