Learn how to educate patients about ensuring their medications are safe by
downloading LEADERS guides for doctors, pharmacists and nurses.

It’s Patient Safety Awareness Week: Do you know what you can to do to keep your patients away from counterfeit medications?

Focusing on adverse drug events for Patient Safety Awareness Week, the American Society for Healthcare Risk Management recommends that medical professionals recognize safe practices for prescribing medications. Focusing on five areas, procurement, prescription, dispensing, administration, and monitoring, they recognize that “faulty processes” can lead to human errors that can cause adverse drug events.

In conjunction with the Institute for Safe Medication Practices, they recommend educating patients to understand more about the medications they are taking, and encouraging them to take an active role in their care, including ensuring their medications are safe.

These are steps outlined in The Partnership for Safe Medicines’ LEADERS guides for doctors, pharmacists and nurses. PSM urges medical professionals to help patients stay safe by discussing drug supply and sourcing safety. For example, patients may believe that purchasing medication from online sellers will provide them with effective, safe medication at lower cost than going to a their local pharmacy. Yet online vendors have been found to be selling suspect quality drugs and counterfeit versions that span cancer therapies to FDA shortage drugs without a prescription. Public health entities such as the World Health Organization, the US National Association of Boards of Pharmacy (NABP), as well as the US Food and Drug Administration strongly counsel against buying online. Educating patients about these risks and directing patients to legitimate pharmacies that are accredited through the NABP Verified Internet Pharmacy Practice Site program is an important patient safety step. Healthcare providers should also consider drug sourcing if their patients do not respond to the drug prescribed or otherwise observe therapeutic failure, rather than assuming patient variation as the explanation.

Also, as part of patient advocacy, providers can also assist their patients who have limited financial resources regarding programs that can provide access to needed medications in this process. Programs like NeedyMeds and the Medicine Assistance Tool can help patients who have financial difficulties find sources for authentic medications at lower cost.

However, as the recent fake Avastin case has shown, patient safety can be compromised when providers purchase medications from outside the secure supply chain. It’s important that physicians, clinic administrators, and pharmacists work together to make sure that medications purchased and used within the delivery system are authentic. Particularly in the setting of the health delivery system, medication offers that seem to good to be true (particularly those from unsolicited vendors) are just that. Standard purchasing through authorized wholesalers with valid licenses and established trust relationships should always be the process.

“Every member of the patient safety team should be attentive to vulnerabilities that may cause patient harm. So physicians, nurses, pharmacists, administrators and patients must work together to understand, consistently observe and be vigilant about suspect medications. Using professional tools such as the LEADERS guide, and patient tools such as SAFE DRUG, both available from the Partnership for Safe Medicines website, can allow each actor within the delivery system to play a part to ensure that legitimate, safe medicines are provided to patients. Importantly, patients are the last barrier to harm, and they should be empowered with tools and a partnership with their providers to provide them the best opportunity to reach their healthcare goals,” advises Professor Bryan Liang, MD, PhD, JD, Executive Director of the Institute of Health Law Studies, California Western School of Law, and Director, San Diego Center for Patient Safety at the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine, and Vice President for the Partnership for Safe Medicines.

Lastly, medical professionals and patients should be encouraged to report suspect and potential counterfeit medications. This is an important public health matter, because potentially counterfeit drug harms may not be limited to the place they are detected—thousands of fake or substandard drugs are used for each one that is actually detected. This is also an important law enforcement matter, as organized criminal operations are increasingly being detected as sources of counterfeit drug selling. Reporting to the FDA and Department of Justice can assist these entities in their efforts to secure drug supply safety for patients in the USA and around the globe.