Every day Americans go to Tijuana, Mexico to buy prescription drugs at discounted prices, despite US state department warnings that criminals impersonating Mexican authorities have detained US citizens with legitimate prescriptions and demanded large bribes.

25% of the prescription medications available in Mexico are fake or substandard, estimates US authorities, reports CNN.

Counterfeit medications are also found in the United States. Recently, CNN reports, 750,000 fake pills were confiscated by US agents in the largest bust of its kind in Southern California, estimated to have a value of $7 million.

Fake pills can have either not enough, or too much of an active ingredient, are manufactured in places like China, Pakistan and India and are often manufactured in unsanitary conditions, even sometimes in basements, cement mixers and out of doors. They can contain floor wax, drywall and paint as ingredients.

But not only are consumers endangering their health, they’re enriching international crime syndicates that are involved in human trafficking, dealing in arms and narcotics and other violent crimes.

“It’s a very dark industry,” warns Kevin Kozak, of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Even in the US, people can find counterfeit medication available from street vendors. However, there is no reason why even the poorest of Americans must depend upon street hustlers for prescription medications, says Daniel Hancz, of the LA County Dept of Public Health. “We do have programs available for poor patients where they can get care at low cost or no cost.”

Authorities say the safest way to obtain prescriptions is through large chain pharmacies that have strong relationships with drug manufacturers or by using a VIPPS certified online pharmacy.

Read the consumer resource “Save Money Safely on Your Prescriptions from Online Pharmacies” to determine if your online medication source is safe. If you’re concerned that you may have been provided with counterfeit medication, read “An 8-Step Checklist For Medicine Safety.”

By S. Imber