This working paper, the second in a series on the global illicit economy, focuses on the “dark pharma” trade in Central America, where no country has been spared the problem of counterfeit and contraband pharmaceuticals making their way to consumers. As this paper argues, the illicit sale of pharmaceutical drugs is a growing global concern, most particularly in developing countries such as in Central America, where the lack of adequate healthcare forces people to seek cheaper drugs. In the absence of effective systems of regulation and access to affordable pharmaceuticals, the demand for cheap medicines drives a criminal market.

In “Dark Pharma: Counterfeit and Contraband Pharmaceuticals in Central America,” Peter Tinti notes that the damage caused by such markets relates not only to the quality of the medicines available to consumers but also to the corruption these markets create and reinforce, reducing citizens’ confidence in the public health sector and the government. These substandard and ineffective drugs may worsen the condition of sick individuals, hinder medical professionals’ ability to make accurate diagnoses, accelerate the spread of communicable diseases, increase drug resistance, and ultimately kill people.

The desire to search for broad solutions to a global problem like counterfeit and contraband pharmaceuticals must at the same time be matched with locally calibrated strategies, given that each region, sub-region, and individual country requires solutions tailored to their realities. Tackling the “dark pharma” problem requires concurrent responses and implementing systems that can provide solutions to local problems while scaling upward regionally and globally.

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