The EU has approved a law to curb the sale of counterfeit drugs, which have been entering Europe at staggering rates over the past few years.

The directive, adopted with 569 votes in favour, 12 against and seven abstentions, has been in the pipeline for over two years and must now be ratified by the Council of Ministers.

The European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industries and Associations director general Brian Ager, said: “This vote clears the way for concrete measures to help protect patients in Europe from counterfeit medicines. As counterfeit medicines endanger the health and lives of patients, we now urge that these measures are implemented as rapidly as possible so that citizens benefit from these added safety provisions.”

Under the law, pharmaceutical companies must stamp each package with a serial number, which can be read by the pharmacy to ascertain that the pack is authentic.

The steps have been taken to identify counterfeiters, who often spend little money on medicine ingredients and a lot of money on identical packaging.

OpSec Security, an anti-counterfeiting and brand protection company, released a study in December 2010 that discovered there had been an increase marketing practices targeting consumers seeking controlled substances such as Oxycontin and Adderall for recreational and off-label use,.

Since 2009, the top search engines, Google, Bing, and Yahoo, have disallowed the use of registered trademarks for prescription-only products in their sponsored links.

However, rogue internet pharmacies are heavily marketing controlled substances using message board spamming, the report said.

The sale of fake medicines has become a huge concern for Europe, where seizures have increased by 400% since 2005.