Fighting gray market and counterfeit dental products

June 20, 2011
Proofs talks to representatives of Kerr and the Dental Trade Alliance about what is being done to stop a growing problem in dentistry.
Editor's Note: Kerr Corporation recently announced the launch of a new customer protection program. According to the news release, the program has been created in the interest of protecting Kerr customers from fraudulent, counterfeit or gray market products and preserving the company’s reputation for quality across its entire spectrum of offerings.

I recently had a chance to talk to Ron Malerstein, vice president of sales for Kerr, and Gary Price, chief executive officer of the Dental Trade Alliance, about the steps being taken by their respective organizations to battle this growing epidemic.
Kevin Henry: Kerr recently launched a new customer protection program, “in the interest of protecting Kerr customers from fraudulent, counterfeit or gray market products and preserving the company’s reputation for quality across its entire spectrum of offerings.” How big a problem is the gray market?Malerstein:I’ve been involved in fighting this since I joined Kerr nine years ago, but it certainly has become a hotter topic lately. I think the gray market has really escalated in recent years because it’s so easy to start a web site and an online business. You can promote your products via the Internet with no problems. I don’t think a week goes by that I don’t get a note from a dentist or one of our reps about the gray market issue or a new player entering the game.Kerr has done a lot to curb gray market activity. Most of the newer brands introduced in the United States are not sold in emerging economies, and there are also products sold in Canada that are not licensed by Health Canada. We’re constantly trying to track grey market products and take action against those dealers who are carrying them or supplied them. We have terminated over a dozen dealers that have been found participating in gray market activity in recent years.Henry: Also mentioned is the fight against counterfeit products. Has that become more of a nuisance than the gray market battle?Malerstein: Both are problematic. Counterfeit products are becoming a bigger issue of late because of the danger they pose to patients. It takes a lot of CSI-style work to bring the product in, examine it, and try to see if the material or the packaging is counterfeit. After we determine if it is or not, then we determine where it is being sold.Henry: Why is counterfeiting growing so much?Malerstein:It is becoming easier and easier for counterfeiters to replicate packaging and duplicate syringes or delivery systems. As authentic Kerr products are becoming harder to source, people sometimes take the unethical route and turn to counterfeiting.Henry: You’re not only fighting against these counterfeit products, you’re also battling to keep your reputation clean in the eyes of the customer, correct?Malerstein: It’s a huge concern for us because we are producing a high-quality product and we are putting our name behind that product. We are highly regarded in the industry and have been for decades – and we don’t want to see the Kerr name tarnished because of the unscrupulous actions of others. Beyond Kerr, though, we believe that counterfeiting is an important issue for the entire dental industry. The more we talk about it, the more it heightens the awareness of what is going on and what can be done.Henry: Gary, the DTA has a task force that deals with the grey market. Have you seen more discussion about this recently?Price: We view our task force on the gray market as a forum for our members. While the gray market technically isn’t illegal, we can provide a place for our members to discuss what can be done about the situation.We’ve found lately that, while the discussion starts on the gray market, it turns into looking at what can be done about black market and counterfeit goods. That’s a far more serious problem. We are hoping to get the attention of regulators, but we also understand that while we’re very concerned about dental materials, they are more concerned about national security concerns like bombs and drugs. We’re way down on the priority list because of that.Henry: Are you seeing a rise in the number of counterfeit products?Price:We are seeing that the black-market and counterfeit goods are really on the rise. It’s astounding to me that people will jump from product to product and the effort that they will put into a counterfeit product. If these people would put as much effort into doing something for good as they do into breaking the law, it would be amazing what changes we might see.Henry: What can be done to stop the counterfeit problem?Price: We hope that we can plan some more aggressive ways to reach and educate dentists about the counterfeit and black-market problems. It’s important for us to continue to educate our customers. We need to let them know that if something appears to be too good of a deal, it is. To have a composite fail because of a black-market or counterfeit material is an inconvenience to the patient. That’s the bottom line. We are seeing manufacturers respond with more sophisticated packaging. Additionally, the FDA is talking about installing a unique coding system. Will our industry see computer tracking chips in their cases in the future? That’s what Wal-Mart is doing right now, so it’s a possibility.