In a two-part series, Clinical Oncology takes a look at the recurrent counterfeit cancer medication scares that have occurred in the last year.
The impact on oncologists has been dramatic, with sentencing announced for one doctor, with more prosecutions possibly looming on the horizon. They note that to date, 155 medical practices in the United States have received FDA warnings about possible counterfeit cancer drug purchases.
Part one reviews the players in 2012’s counterfeit Avastin and Altuzan incidents. Notable among them is oncologist Dr. William Kincaid and his partners at the now-defunct McLeod Cancer and Blood Centers in Johnson City, Tennessee. Kincaid’s case was particularly egregious from a medical perspective, because once his nurses noticed the foreign-language labels on the chemotherapy drugs, Kincaid and his business partners went to great lengths to fool his nurses into believing the fake drugs were genuine.
Part two looks at the process by which counterfeit medication infiltrates the legitimate drug supply. While the Internet is the most likely source of counterfeit medication, third-party medical supply companies also play a role in the introduction of counterfeit drugs by their direct marketing approaches to doctors. Partnership for Safe Medicines board member Dr. Bryan Liang described just how easy it is for shady medicine brokers to reach out to doctors: “I tried to see if I could find the name, address, fax number and email of every oncology clinic in the U.S. with a staff of more than 25 and how long it would take to compile that list. It took me approximately 25 minutes. I could fax practically every oncology group in the U.S. and advertise cheap [fake] Avastin, and it would only take a few sales to become a multimillionaire.”
Dr. Bryan Liang also addressed the dangers of counterfeit medication, and his own feelings about the way counterfeit drug crimes should be prosecuted. “…even if the chances of receiving a fake drug are one in a million, when it happens to you, it’s 100%. Population information is important but never forget you’re treating the individual patient. When my wife had breast cancer, if I knew my colleague had infused her with chemotherapy and had not checked the viability of the medication or was simply interested in making higher profits, it would have ruined her chances. To be cheated like this is a crime against humanity, and it should be treated as such.”