Counterfeit HIV Medication: Profitable for Criminals but Dangerous for Patients

In 2011, the United Kingdom’s Medicines and Healthcare Regulatory Agency (MHRA) discovered that counterfeit versions of an HIV treatment had infiltrated the secure pharmaceutical market in the United Kingdom.  The drug, called Truvada, is a combination HIV therapy that had been unwittingly introduced into Europe’s drug supply chain by a Danish drug supplier.1 A week later, the same supplier admitted that another of its HIV medications, Viread, was also counterfeit.2

Counterfeit versions of the HIV medications Combivir and Viramune were discovered for sale in Germany in 2009.  A year later, dozens of pharmacies in the northern part of Germany were investigated for selling counterfeit drugs.3  The problem of counterfeit HIV medication is most acute in Africa, where it is estimated that up to 60% of prescription drugs for infectious disease are fake.4  Counterfeit HIV medication has turned up recently in clinics in Kenya5 and Tanzania.6

There is no doubt that problems with the supply chain and inspection efforts throughout Africa expose patients in most African countries to the dangers of counterfeit drugs.7  In the United States, however, patients who circumvent US Food and Drug Administration protections by shopping at illicit online pharmacies are exposing themselves to similar counterfeit drug dangers.8

The National Association of Boards of Pharmacy report that 97% of all online pharmacies are not operating within US laws and regulations.9  Many of these websites purport to be Canada-based pharmacies, yet in 2005, the FDA warned consumers that so-called Canadian pharmacies are likely not what they say they are.10  Even the Canadian government has issued a warning about illegal online pharmacies, stating “As law enforcement in both the U.S. and Canada have observed, some illegal Internet pharmacies mimic the appearance of licensed sites or disguise themselves as originating from Canada to take advantage of U.S. consumers seeking Canadian pharmaceuticals. Therefore, consumers may have difficulty discerning between legitimate and illegal sites.”11



1. Partnership for Safe Medicines, December 2, 2011, “Counterfeit HIV Medication Discovered In UK Supply Chain,”

2. Securing Industry, December 2, 2011, “Counterfeit Viread also on market, says MHRA,”

3. Securing Industry, August 12, 2010, “German pharmacies infiltrated by fake medicines?”

4. Partnership for Safe Medicines, May 17, 2011, “UNODC Up Against Crime Syndicates In Fight To Curb Fake Drugs,”

5. Securing Industry, November 4, 2011, “Fake HIV medications uncovered in Kenya,”

6. Securing Industry, October 31, 2012, “TFDA accusations intensify fake HIV drug row,”

7. Securing Industry, May 25, 2009, “Counterfeit drugs take hefty toll in developing world,”

8. FDA, October 10, 2012, “BeSafeRx: Know Your Online Pharmacy,”

9. Partnership for Safe Medicines, March 3, 2012, “National Boards Of Pharmacy Releases 2013 Report, 97% Of Online Pharmacies Not Recommended,”

10. FDA, December 16, 2005, “FDA Operation Reveals Many Drugs Promoted as “Canadian” Products Really Originate From Other Countries,

11. Criminal Intelligence Service Canada, “Counterfeit Pharmaceuticals in Canada,”