Switzerland Seizes Bogus Pfizer Pills in Zurich Airport

Swiss authorities seized more than 1 million fake Pfizer Inc. Xanax anti-anxiety pills at Zurich airport, part of a wider crackdown on counterfeit medicines posing a public-health threat.

Four crates weighing more than 400 kilograms (880 pounds) were intercepted while in transit from China to Egypt and ordered to be destroyed after tests determined the pills contained no active ingredients, Bern-based Swissmedic, the country’s drug regulator, said in a statement today.

Governments are fighting to safeguard the distribution of legitimate drugs and crack down on counterfeit products. Systematic checks of medical shipments are carried out every year, and imports of bogus medicines have been declining in Switzerland, Swissmedic said in June. Counterfeit drugs generated an estimated $75 billion in revenue in 2010, according to the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy.

“I’m angry,” Erik Gordon, a professor of law and business at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, wrote in e-mailed comments. “When criminals counterfeit Hermes scarves, money is stolen. When they counterfeit pills, they kill people.”

Each year more than 100,000 people around the world may die from substandard and counterfeit medications, according to an estimate by Amir Attaran, an associate professor at the University of Ottawa, and Roger Bate, an economist at the American Enterprise Institute.

The fake Xanax couldn’t be recognized as counterfeit at first glance, said Swissmedic, whose official name is the Swiss Agency for Therapeutic Products. The regulator said it informed authorities abroad of the discovery, in particular in China and Egypt. No patients in Switzerland will be affected, it said.

The Swiss regulator said in June that it had already seized about 90 shipments this year representing a high-potential health risk. It also has ordered the shutdown of Internet websites trading drugs illegally.