License to Pill: Illegal Entrepreneurs’ Tactics in the Online Trade of Medicines

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review


Product counterfeiting is a long-established criminal pursuit that has increased at an exponential rate in recent times, so much so that the trade in counterfeit goods is estimated to account for anything up to 7 per cent of world trade, equivalent to $500 billion. This includes a burgeoning global trade in 'fake' medicines. With the advent of the internet and e-commerce - increasingly seen as the cornerstone of the new global social and economic order - this market has expanded significantly. It is estimated that the 'fake' medicine trade alone has increased by 90 per cent since 2005, with an approximate turnover of $200 billion. However, despite resultant criminal profits, as well as social and physical harms, the illegal online trade of medicines has received little scholarly attention, and research and preventative action remain largely ineffective.

The aim of the present chapter is to provide an original empirical account of the tactics and methods illegal entrepreneurs employ in order to market illicit medicines online while avoiding being detected by law enforcements agencies and health regulatory authorities. The chapter is based primarily - although not exclusively - on our research in the UK, which is part of the FAKECARE project; a European Commission-funded project that aims to develop expertise that can help appropriate agencies to tackle the online trade of 'fake' medicines by, among other things, providing an in-depth knowledge of the supply and demand dimensions of this criminal market.

Following the introduction, the chapter is organised into five sections. The first section briefly outlines the broader context of the trade in illicit medicines. The second section focuses on the infrastructure required in order to trade in medicines online. In the third section, we offer a description of the methodology adopted to explore the phenomenon. In the fourth section we focus on the findings: firstly we concentrate on the online tactics illicit entrepreneurs use to market their merchandise; and secondly we offer an account of the ways in which entrepreneurs trading in medicines online attempt to avoid detection by law enforcement and regulatory agencies. The chapter finishes with a discussion and analysis of our overall findings.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Relativity of Wrongdoing
Subtitle of host publicationCorruption, Organised Crime, Fraud and Money Laundering in Perspective
EditorsPetrus C. van Duyne, Amir Maljević, Georgios Antonopoulos, Jackie Harvey, Klaus von Lampe
PublisherWolf Legal
ISBN (Print)978946202287
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2015
Externally publishedYes


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