The National Crime Prevention Council (NCPC) has issued a report warning Americans be careful where they purchase their medications, especially those used to treat chronic diseases like high cholesterol, hypertension, cancer, HIV and bacterial infections.
The Center for Medicine in the Public Interest estimates that fake medicine sales in the United States totals $75 billion every year, and has doubled since 2005.
Says the NCPC, “People die as the result of taking diluted drugs, drugs with fake ingredients, or legitimate drugs that are repackaged after their expiration date with fake labeling that indicates they are still useful.”
The FDA says that victims of counterfeit medicine can suffer:
1.Poisoning: caused by ingredients in the counterfeit drugs that, if ingested or injected, are toxic and cause health problems.
2.Unintended consequences: some counterfeits are presented as substitutes for other drugs. For example, counterfeiters recently emptied bottles of the anti-psychotic drug Zyprexa and filled the bottles with aspirin. The drugs had no therapeutic value.
3.Ineffective treatments: because though some fake drugs contain some active ingredient, but are below therapeutic levels. Sub-potent drugs are especially dangerous in the treatment of illnesses like HIV and malaria.
4.No response to therapy: Some drugs are just chalk or water. A counterfeit version of Serostim, a growth hormone used to treat AIDS patients, was found to have no active ingredient.
The reason why chronic disease medications are so heavily counterfeited is because they are expensive medications. People seeking to find cheaper sources of medication, may fall prey to unlicensed online drug sellers that provide counterfeit medication says NCPC. The reason the medication is so cheap is because it’s fake, and yet it’s still an extremely lucrative business for criminals.
Organized crime groups have become counterfeit medication sellers because the penalties are less severe than for other types of crime, but they can then use the extensive profits from the fake medicine to fund other illegal activities, recounts NCPC.
Most counterfeit medications found within the US have been sourced from overseas. In the developing world, counterfeit medication is huge problem, where fake HIV drugs have resulted in many deaths, and an estimated 200,000 malaria deaths are related to sub-potent fake anti-malarial medication.
Consumers can protect themselves from counterfeit medication by only using drugs that have been prescribed by a physician after a physical exam, and by filling the prescription at a legitimate pharmacy.
Buying medication from sites that sell prescription drugs without a prescription, or from an overseas pharmacy or from a pharmacy that is not state-licensed are dangerous practices that increase consumers’ likelihood of getting counterfeit medication.
Consumers should always look for the VIPPS seal of the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy. Consumers looking to save money on prescriptions, or who are unable to afford their prescription medication should read “Safe Savings,” a consumer education publication of the Partnership for Safe Medicines.
By S. Imber