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Counterfeit Inspiration

Global health Ph.D. candidate Timothy Mackey is the second SDSU student to be inducted into the Bouchet Honor Society.
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Tim Mackey completed an internship at the World Health Organization in Geneva, Switzerland, researching the intersection between public health, intellectual property and innovation.

When global health Ph.D. candidate Timothy Mackey was inducted into the Bouchet Honor Society, he was recognized both for his research into the global impact of counterfeit medications and for overcoming adversity to succeed.

Named for the first African American doctoral recipient in the United States, the Edward Alexander Bouchet Honor Society recognizes outstanding scholarly achievement and promotes diversity and excellence in higher education.  Last month, the society honored new inductees at an academic conference and ceremony at Yale University.

Mackey, who splits his time between San Diego State University and University of California at San Diego as part of a joint doctoral program, recently finished his dissertation, which focuses on the global criminal trade of counterfeit medicines that endanger the lives of patients.

The perfect candidate

“Tim Mackey is one of the most productive scholars we have had in our joint Ph.D. program,” said SDSU public health professor Thomas Novotny, who nominated Mackey for the Bouchet Society. “He has published literally dozens of articles in prominent scientific journals and has taken on very difficult subjects in these works.”

“He is really a perfect candidate for the Bouchet Honor Society, as an Asian American with a clear global health commitment and career trajectory.”

Mackey has a master’s in health law and policy from UCSD-California Western School of Law and a bachelor’s in political science-international relations from UCSD. As a child, he lived all over the world before his family settled in Moreno Valley, Calif. There he attended underperforming junior high and high schools, but beat the odds by becoming academically successful.

“I realize how fortunate I am to have had the opportunities I’ve had,” Mackey said. “I am cognizant of the fact that I have been given a unique experience, and I am hoping to give back.”

Global health crisis

Mackey has published more than 70 papers on topics ranging from healthcare reform and global drug supply chain safety to global health governance, e-health and access to medication. It all ties together with his research on counterfeit drugs.

“The problem of counterfeit medicines is really a preeminent global health issue," Mackey said.  I first became interested in the topic during my master’s degree studies where I learned about the death of a San Diego teenager, Ryan Haight, who purchased medications online.  Since then, it has been one of my goals to address this public health and patient safety problem that continues to harm the most vulnerable in our global society.”

His multi-disciplinary study looks at the issue of counterfeit medicine from the perspective of different disciplines, including public health, diplomacy, governance, information technology and international relations.

Findings show that the prevalence of counterfeit medications is on the rise worldwide, threatening patient lives, potentially leading to antimicrobial resistance, and helping criminals to profit.  The Internet also represents an important conduit of access and risk for these dangerous products, yet illicit online pharmacies continue to proliferate, Mackey said.


“Despite these clear threats, cooperation among the international community is significantly limited and the problem has not been solved,” said Mackey. He analyzed the current state of counterfeit drug distribution across the globe and has proposed a solution to the United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime and other stakeholders.

“Mackey’s research on illicit and counterfeit pharmaceuticals has gained international attention,” said Novotny. “These drugs represent a public health threat due to lack of potency, lack of standardized manufacturing practices, and outright fraud.  Tim has produced some of the most original work in researching counterfeit pharmaceuticals, and this research will likely lead to improved governance of the issue and better protection of global public health.”

History of excellence

Mackey is only the second SDSU doctoral student invited to join the Bouchet Honor Society the first was Meghan Morris in 2011, who is now a researcher at University of California at San Francisco's Center for AIDS Prevention Studies.

During the conference, faculty, administrators and students from across the country joined together to discuss this year’s  theme, “Determining the Future of Diversity Discussions.”

“The Bouchet conference was really eye-opening," he said.  "The quality of research presented by the inductees and the dedication of the academy to promoting academic excellence and diversity is something I will continue to strive for in my own work.”

Future plans

After earning his Ph.D. in June, Mackey plans to stay on the academic track, continuing his research and teaching global health at an academic institution.

“Having the opportunity to pursue a higher education through a doctoral degree is both a great privilege and a heavy responsibility.  I’ve been given a tremendous experience at SDSU and UCSD that other people have not been afforded. I strongly believe that academics provides a pathway for positive change and I’m fully committed to realizing and honoring this potential.”

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