Foreign Medicines Poses a Risk to Chronically Ill Americans

Report Cover

The Partnership for Safe Medicines (PSM) released a new report this week, A Risky Proposition: How Opening the U.S. to Foreign Medicines Poses a Risk to Chronically Ill Americans, detailing the dangers posed to American patients by opening up the secure and safe U.S. medical supply chain to foreign drugs through importation.  

We released this latest report to make patients and caregivers aware of a growing epidemic: counterfeit, fake and tainted medicines.  As detailed in the report, 133 million Americans – nearly half of all adults- suffer from at least one chronic disease with many depending on prescription medication for life and health.

At the same time, many experts are concerned that the growing number of fake internet pharmacies provides a global distribution channel for fake or tainted medicines, making it much easier for criminal drug rings to sell their ineffective and harmful products to unsuspecting American patients. The anonymity of the Internet means anyone can claim anything about themselves online including sham businesses.

The consequences of counterfeit medicines are very real. For example, In February 2009, BBC News reported that 30,000 packs of counterfeit life-saving drugs were probably consumed by National Health Service patients in England, including medicines that treat serious chronic health problems such as cancer, heart conditions and schizophrenia.


Fortunately for America, only a tiny fraction of the global supply of counterfeit drugs ever makes it into the U.S. drug supply. All that could change rather quickly, however, if federal policymakers open up the closed system that has protected our medicines uniquely well for decades, and allow importation from foreign based pharmacies. That is why chronic disease communities should understand the very real public health risks that a change in importation policy would pose. Patients living with potentially painful and debilitating chronic disease should not have to worry about the safety of medicines they depend upon.

The new analysis provides an overview of the emerging problem of fake medicine and fake pharmacies, the threat posed by drug importation, and a discussion of why patients and caregivers must be vigilant in order to protect their health. The full report can be found here: Click here

Infographic Footnotes:

1.In January 2010, Bangkok police and health officials raided four drug stockrooms, two of which were operating as pharmacies, and seized more than 200 varieties of counterfeit medicine including medications to treat HIV/Aids, cancer and high blood pressure.[1]

2.Sixty-one Chinese citizens were hospitalized in 2010 after 116 patients received fake Avastin – a cancer treatment – at a Shanghai Hospital. Of the 61 hospitalized, 17 required surgery due to complications. The Shanghai Ruijin-AmMed Cancer Center that illegally purchased the drug before passing it on the hospital had its drug sales license revoked. Some of the individuals suspected of making and selling the fake drugs actually worked at the cancer center.[2]

3.In February 2009, BBC News reported that 30,000 packs of counterfeit life-saving drugs were probably consumed by National Health Service patients in England, including medicines that treat serious chronic health problems such as cancer, heart conditions and schizophrenia. The drugs were traced to a Chinese national who was already under indictment in the U.S. for selling counterfeit drugs over the Internet.[3]

4.In 2010, U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers seized as many as three million fraudulent medications from international mail parcels – most often arriving from Asia – that contained phony penicillin, as well as fake drugs used to treat AIDS, arthritis and high cholesterol.[4]

5.Europharm Laboratories, a Hong Kong drug company, issued a recall in 2009 of batches of the drug Allopurinol – used to treat patients with poor kidney function – after five patients died from traces of bacteria in the drug. The company had been producing the drug for 21 years at the time of this incident.[5]

6.Thousands of English patients received counterfeit cancer drugs manufactured in China and sold from a company operating out of Luxembourg between December 2006 and May 2007. The importer managed to con hospitals and other health care sites into administering up to 100,000 of an estimated 2 million doses of phony medicine to as many as 25,000 seriously ill individuals, including those suffering from prostate cancer.[6]

7.In 2009, diabetics in Europe faced widespread risk when more than 200,000 counterfeit insulin needles were released into the Dutch market after a company purchased the packages from a wholesaler in Malaysia. Similar reports occurred in the United Kingdom where 500,000 counterfeited needles entered the market, as well as Poland, where 1.3 million needles were distributed.[7]

[1] “Din Daeng raids net massive haul of fake and illegal drugs.” Bangkok post. January 10, 2010.

[2]  Shanghai Municipal Government. “18 facing charges over fake eye drug injections.” City News. February 1, 2011.

[3] “Thousands ‘have taken fake drugs.’” BBC News. February 3, 2011.

[4] “ConsumerWatch: Beware Of Prescription Fakes Sold Online.” CBS San Francisco. June 2, 2011.

[5] “Macao recalls all HK tainted Allopurinol pills.” People’s Daily Online. March 8, 2009.

[6] Greenwood, Chris and Neil Sears. “Fake cancer drugs given to thousands: Conman jailed for importing two million doses.” Mail Online. April 12, 2011.

[7] PSM: Incident Encylopedia:

Noncommunicable diseases country profiles 2011, WHO global report: