Fraudulent pharmacies have popped up all over the internet, to take advantage of the high profits that can be made off of selling pharmaceutical drugs. These sites often offer cheap prices and discounts on otherwise expensive medications. They also usually allow the purchase of prescription medicines without the need for a prescription. Often-times the medicines sold online are counterfeit medicines, and while they may seem like a suitable alternative to expensive prescription drugs, they are harmful. The manufacture, warehousing, distribution, and sale of counterfeit drugs is a criminal enterprise, and worldwide problem affecting the healthcare system. Globally, the counterfeit pharmaceutical drug trade is a multibillion dollar industry, and ten percent of the worlds medicines are counterfeit.
Counterfeit medicines or “spurious, falsely labeled, falsified, counterfeit (SFFC) medicines” are defined by the World Health Organization (WHO) as “deliberately and fraudulently mislabeled with respect to identity and/or source, with correct ingredients or with the wrong ingredients, without active ingredients, with insufficient active ingredients, or with fake packaging.”
How are drugs counterfeited?
One of the most common practices in countering drugs is to manufacture placebos, these formulations do not contain any of the stated active ingredient(s). These drugs are dangerous, in that they are ineffective, and persons taking them will not receive any real health benefits.
Other common practices involve, counterfeit drugs that are substandard, having the wrong active ingredient or, too much or too little of the active ingredient, which makes them unsafe. These types of counterfeit drugs, having altered therapeutic action, delay success of treatment, confound or mask clinical signs and symptoms, and can cause drug resistance. People who take these formulations, may not get better, may get sicker, or may become unresponsive to the real drug.
Counterfeit drugs may be genuine copies of real brand drugs. These drugs may look real and have the correct amount and same active ingredient as the real drug, but, they are expired. These counterfeit medicines are resold authentic product, that have passed their shelf-life, but were repackaged and relabeled, with new expiration dates. Expired medicines may be ineffective or may have altered side-effects.
Common Counterfeit Medicines
The most commonly counterfeited drugs in the industrialized world are life-style medicines, such as, erectile dysfunction drugs (Viagra), hair loss treatments, and weight management treatments. Narcotics (pain-killers) and Cardiovascular drugs are also commonly counterfeited. In the developing world, medicines targeted for counterfeiting, are those for the treatment of Malaria, Tuberculosis, and HIV/AIDS. While not as common, cancer drugs have been faked.
Herbal medicines and dietary supplements are also counterfeited.
Where are Counterfeit Medicines Sold?
In countries like the United States, counterfeit medicines are mainly sold on the internet on fake online pharmacies. In underdeveloped countries they are mostly found in street markets. In these areas, counterfeit drugs have also permeated the legal drug supply chain, and have made their way into pharmacies and hospitals.
Beware of these signs
When buying drugs, pay attention to the packaging, the labeling, and the appearance of the pill. Counterfeit medicines may have packaging that is similar to the genuine product but, slightly different in the color or design, and labels may be crooked or pasted on. The color, size, shape, and taste of the pill may also be different. Cracked, chipped, or otherwise damaged pills are a sign that the drug may be counterfeit.
Additionally, experiencing new side-effects when taking a regular prescription may indicate that the new supply is fake. Another sign to watch for is if the package does not contain a leaflet with ingredient list and dosage instruction.
Substitutes and Contamination
Fake medicines are often adulterated with known or unknown contaminants or substitutes. Counterfeit medicines have been found to contain road paint, floor wax, shoe polish, and carcinogen. When the wrong active ingredient is included, it is sometimes substituted with a drug having a similar chemical structure to the actual one, or substituted with a complete different class of drug. For example, an analgesic may be substituted for an antimicrobial or antiviral, such, that the patient may think that they are getting better because their pain or fever has gone away, but the actual cause of the disease is not treated.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) warns against the purchase of medication online. Online pharmacies are often not located in the United States and the drugs they carry are made abroad. Drugs approved in other countries may have slightly different formulations that can have different side-effects or drug interactions. Taking counterfeit drugs is a serious health risk. Counterfeit medicines may be ineffective and life threatening. They can cause new problems, mask current problems, or cause current problems to get worse. They may even cause drug resistance, that impairs your body from responding to the correct drug in the future, relapse of disease, and death.