The new Coronavirus and the impacts on counterfeiting

In the midst of the largest pandemic ever seen in our century, on April 1st of this year the DISE (Narcotics Investigations Police Station) of Osasco/SP conducted a search and seizure operation in a clandestine factory in the North Zone of São Paulo that was producing hand sanitizer on a large scale.

According to information released by the newspaper Folha de São Paulo, 375 bottles of the irregular product and 11 gallons of 50 liters of material used to produce the illegal gel were seized, and the owner of the residence where the goods were found was arrested in the act. Besides the products, bottles of shampoos were also found in the residence, which were possibly used for counterfeiting before the COVID-19.

The counterfeiter’s creativity does not choose nationality and goes beyond borders. In the European Union, regulatory agencies have investigated imports of masks, medical devices, hygiene kits, possibly counterfeit, which may be ineffective in protecting their consumers and even harmful to health, because they do not follow any type of technical standard of competent health authorities’ surveillance.

There is no novelty in the fact that some people, using bad faith, try to take advantage of this moment of pandemic to obtain economic advantage in an illegal way, falsifying essential products for the containment and prevention of the disease. The abusive price of essential products and the scarcity of material in the market, associated with the fear of contracting the disease, end up attracting unsuspecting and often desperate consumers to purchase products of dubious origin on the Internet, which ends up exposing them to an even greater risk.

Similarly, much has been debated in the scientific community and in the general press about the possible effects of the drug Hydroxychloroquine on the treatment of COVID-19, a substance already known and used by the medical community in the treatment of diseases such as Malaria, Arthritis and Lupus for many decades, through drugs such as Reuquinol, widely made available to the public.

The mere mention Hydroxychloroquine in the media and by political agents as a possible “cure” of COVID-19 caused such drugs to simply disappear from pharmacies, consumed immediately by a population desperate to protect itself, albeit dangerously and improperly, from the pandemic.

Therefore, with its scarcity in the market and in the face of the immense attention received by the press, it is quite predictable that clandestine laboratories are already producing, possibly on a large scale, counterfeit versions of known drugs, usually composed of innocuous substances or even a health hazard, exposing the general population’s health to a great risk.

The falsification of products used for therapeutic or medicinal purposes was included in the list of heinous crimes (Laws 9695/98 and 8072/90), and article 273 of the Penal Code provides, is subject to imprisonment of 10 to 15 years and a fine for the agent responsible for this conduct.

As provided in item I of the same legal provision, products for therapeutic or medicinal purposes, medicines, raw materials, pharmaceutical inputs, cosmetics, sanitizers and those for use in diagnosis are considered. In the current situation, be it hand sanitizer, flour pills that would simulate medicines or masks in disagreement with existing technical norms could be included as items that can be typified in this article of the Penal Code.

It is also important to highlight that not only exposing these products for sale configures the crime envisaged in this article but also its manufacture, importation or even keeping in stock may characterize it.

Considering that the agents who carry out the conducts described above can answer for such crimes, severe action of public agents is required to deter this practice and keep the population safe, since what is at stake is the overall public health.

Regarding consumers, it is essential that they consume products of known origin and renowned companies, so as not to promote this type of practice and not put their health at risk.

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