When a drug counterfeiter makes fake medication, they do not go through dosage testing, quality control, or safety testing. The goal is to produce a product that looks like the real thing, with little concern for the actual ingredients. For this reason, all manner of toxic substances have made their way into counterfeit medication.
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Here examples of five different types of poison that investigators have found in counterfeit medications.
Heavy Metals: mercury, lead, cadmium, arsenic, chrome, uranium, strontium, selenium, aluminum
A woman living in rural British Columbia, Canada suffered a fatal bout of cardiac arrhythmia as a result of toxic heavy metal poisoning from counterfeit prescription drugs that she purchased online for to treat a her flu infection in 2006. The coroner who examined her case found that the drugs she had taken were contaminated with aluminum, arsenic, selenium, strontium, and uranium. This tragic case is not surprising. A 2010 study found that of the drugs purchased for testing purposes from a fake online pharmacy, 26% contained heavy metals and toxins such as arsenic, cadmium, chrome, lead, and mercury.
POISON IMPACT: Heavy metals can be carcinogenic or toxic to central nervous system, kidneys, liver, skin, bones or teeth.
Actual Poison: Rat poison, boric acid, antifreeze, PCBs and benzopyrenes
Actual poisons in the form of industrial chemicals and pest control compounds have made their way into counterfeit medications and herbal remedies that have resulted in hundreds of deaths. Consumers can be exposed to such poisons when they purchase prescription medication from fake online pharmacies, or receive questionable medication from medical professionals buying outside the secure supply chain. In 2013, the United Kingdom’s MHRA reported an herbal medication from Hong Kong that was marketed globally was contaminated with mercury and lead. Antifreeze was used as a replacement for glycerine in cough syrup and other medications intended for children, killing 365 people total in Panama, 88 children in Haiti, 84 children in Nigeria and 18 people in Guanzhou. Boric acid and antifreeze both cause kidney damage and kidney failure. Tests of medications purchased online have found PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls) and benzopyrenes in fake medication purchased for the tests. PCBs act as estrogenic disrupters and may result in breast, uterine and cervical cancer. They can also lead to developmental defects. Benzyopyrenes are carcenogens.
IMPACT: Kidney damage, kidney failure, cancer and developmental defects.
Common household items: Brick dust, floor wax, house paint, paint thinner, road paint
Ingredients for common household compounds that were never intended for consumption have all turned up in fake drugs. House paint and floor wax are not meant for human consumption. Household compounds of all types have been found in counterfeit medications. To give fake pills a genuine-looking sheen, floor wax is used in lieu of the enteric coating found on genuine medication. To achieve accurate-looking pill colors, counterfeiters use brick dust and paints to color their pills. Sheet rock is often used for the pill components. Floor wax can contain formaldehyde. Formaldehyde causes vomiting, abdominal pain, dizziness, and in extreme cases, can even cause death. Brick dust is often contaminated with heavy metals and other toxic chemicals. Paints of all types may contain heavy metals for pigment. Paints may also contain several different poisonous hydrocarbons which can cause coma, blurred vision, rapid heartbeat, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. Paint thinner is used by counterfeiters to remove labels from genuine pill bottles. Paint thinner can contaminate the fake medication put into the re-used bottles. Paint thinner causes nervous system disruption, including coma, respiratory difficulty and gastrointestinal distress.
IMPACT: Vomiting, abdominal pain, dizziness, blurred vision, respiratory difficulty, nervous system disruption, coma, death.
Drugs You Didn’t Ask For: homosildenafil, hongdenafil, aminotadalifil, xanthoanthrafil, pseudovardenafil, silbutramine, Haloperidol
Researchers have purchased medication from fake online pharmacies and found the pills to be made up of drugs different from what they were supposed to be, as well as drugs not approved by the FDA. Similar compounds rejected by the FDA due to safety concerns, are turning up in counterfeit medications. ED medications purchased from fake online pharmacies will claim they contain sildenafil citrate, vardenavil or tadalafil, the actual drugs found in ED medications. Instead of these however, researchers have found homosildenafil, hongdenafil, aminotadalifil, xanthoanthrafil and pseudovardenafil, untested compounds that have not been approved by the FDA for human use.
U.S. consumers who thought they were purchasing Ambien, Xanax, Lexapro and Ativan Were instead sold fake medications containing haloperidol, a powerful anti-psychotic drug. Several consumers who took these pills ended up needing emergency medical treatment after suffering difficulty in breathing, muscle spasms, and muscle stiffness. These are all side-effects of haloperidol use. Consumers who thought they had purchased a popular, FDA approved weight-loss drug from various online pharmacies instead ended up with a fake pills containing dangerous levels of sibutramine. Sibutramine is a weight loss medication banned by the FDA due to the serious heart problems it can provoke, such as high blood pressure and stroke.
IMPACT: Difficulty in breathing, muscle spasms, and muscle stiffness, high blood pressure, stroke.
No Drugs at All. Medication that contain either not enough of the active ingredient or no active ingredients at all can make you ill by not doing anything to improve your symptoms. Recent cases of counterfeit medications with no active ingredients have created serious health problems for cancer patients and those who suffer with asthma. Three incidents of fake cancer medications in the United States have exposed unsuspecting patients to ineffective and even toxic compounds instead of their needed medication. Hazim Gaber claimed they were selling an experimental cancer drug called dicholoracetate (DCA) to cancer patients at $100 per shipment. Instead of receiving the experimental treatment however, the “drugs” they were sold contained only starch, dextrin, dextrose and lactose. Mr. Gaber pleaded guilty in US court in May 2010.
In February 2012, 19 US cancer clinics were identified by the FDA as having purchased medications from outside the approved supply for a vital chemotherapy. The warning focused on the fact that any Avastin they may have purchased could be counterfeit. The FDA reported that the counterfeit Avastin they discovered was in fact just starch, salt, paint thinner, and other common chemicals with no active ingredient at all.
In 2014, A Turkish company called Ozay Pharmaceuticals was prosecuted for selling counterfeit versions of Avastin and other cancer medications. Instead of containing the life-saving compound developed by Genentech, their “cancer drugs” were just water and mold.
Counterfeit asthma inhalers plagued Asthmatics, who must rely upon inhalers to keep their breathing passageways clear during an asthma attack. A British man supplied fake inhalers over the Internet that provided just a third of the dose needed to treat an asthma attack. The U.K citizen responsible for selling the fake inhalers pleaded guilty in June 2011.
IMPACT: If your medication contains no active ingredient, it can be just as dangerous or even deadly as fake drugs that contain poisons of banned drugs.
Both doctors and their patients can benefit from the Partnership For Safe Medicines Fact Pack. Educate yourself and your loved ones about counterfeit medication.