Fake drugs are emerging as a new public health hazard.

But loopholes in the law are resulting in inadequate sentences for those caught manufacturing or selling these drugs. There have been several stories in the national press in recent weeks concerning the circulation of counterfeit drugs. In a recent case ('The 6m secret factory that churned out thousands of fake Viagra tablets', The Times, 27 November 2004), police found what they believe to be the hub of one of Europe's biggest counterfeit drug rings operating in Wembley. A mass of evidence was presented but the five-year prison sentence handed to the defendant was based on copyright infringement only, not the serious threat to public health that the operation presented. There is a need to ensure comprehensive systems are in place so that fake drugs can be traced and withdrawn from circulation before they damage people's health, and the counterfeiters can be brought to justice. Punishments must reflect the gravity of the offence. Now is the time for public health professionals to lobby for the dangers posed by counterfeit drugs to be taken into account in sentencing policy.

Graham Fee, public health support officer, Walsall tPCT