5 Kinds Of Poisons Found In Counterfeit Drugs

There are a lot of shady ingredients that go into counterfeit medications that consumers can be exposed to by buying directly from unlicensed drug sellers on the internet, or when medical professionals purchase medications from outside the secured supply chain.

Here is a compendium of five types of poison that investigators have found in counterfeit medications.



Heavy Metalsmercury, lead, cadmium, arsenic, chrome, uranium, strontium, selenium, aluminum

A Canadian suffered and died from cardiac arrhythmia caused by heavy metal poisoning from counterfeit prescription medications purchased online for routine conditions in 2006.  The coroner ruled that her medications were laced with uranium, strontium, selenium and aluminum, as well as arsenic. Her unfortunate case is not unusual.  Test results from a 2010 study showed researchers that 26% of a sampling of medications purchased from fake online pharmacies contained heavy metals or toxins including mercury, lead, cadmium, arsenic and chrome.

POISON IMPACT:  Many heavy metals are carcinogenic or toxic to central nervous system, kidneys, liver, skin, bones or teeth.


Actual Poison: Rat poison, boric acid, antifreeze, PCBs and benzopyrenes

Actual poison has been found in counterfeit medications that have led to the death of hundreds.

Patients can be exposed to these poisons by buying directly from unlicensed drug sellers on the internet, or when medical professionals purchase medications from outside the secured supply chain.

INTERPOL investigators found rat poison and boric acid as ingredients in fake medication.

Antifreeze was substituted for glycerine in cough syrup and other common medications, killing 365 people in Panama, 88 children in Haiti, 84 children in Nigeria and18 people in Guanzhou. Boric acid and antifreeze causes kidney damage and kidney failure.

Researchers found PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls) and benzopyrenes in fake medication purchased online. PCBs are estrogenic disrupters that may cause breast, uterine and cervical cancer and can lead to development defects. Benzyopyrenes are carcinogenic.

IMPACT: Kidney damage, kidney failure, cancer and developmental defects.


Common household items: floor wax, brick dust, sheet rock, house paint, road paint, paint thinner

Everyday items you’d never ingest have been found in counterfeit medication, like house paint and floor wax, which are not edible, nor meant to be ingested.

Investigators have found all of these items in counterfeit medications. Floor wax gives a nice sheen to mimic an enteric coating, brick dust and paints fake the proper color of pills, and sheet rock can be made into pills.

Floor wax can contain formaldehyde which can cause vomiting, abdominal pain, dizziness, and in extreme cases can cause death. Brick dust can contain contain poisonous heavy metals and other chemicals. Paints can contain heavy metals for pigment, as well as hydrocarbons which are poisonous and can cause coma, blurred vision, rapid heartbeat, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea.

Paint thinner can get into bottles when it's used to peel old labels off empty bottles for re-use. Paint thinner can cause 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 and pseudovardenafil

Medication purchased online has been tested by researchers and found to contain substitute ingredients not approved by the FDA for medicinal use. Substitutes that may be cheaper may have been rejected by the FDA for use in people, or be untested, with potentially dangerous side effects and contraindications that aren't known to the public.

ED medication purchased online and purporting to contain sildenafil citrate, vardenavil or tadalafil, instead was tested by researchers and found to contain homosildenafil, hongdenafil, aminotadalifil, xanthoanthrafil and pseudovardenafil, chemicals not FDA approved for human consumption.

Consumers who purchased Ambien, Xanax, Lexapro or Ativan instead received foreign versions of haloperidol, a powerful anti-psychotic drug. As a result, these customers needed emergency medical treatment for symptoms such as difficulty in breathing, muscle spasms, and muscle stiffness—all problems that can occur with haloperidol.

Also people who thought they were ingesting a popular, FDA approved weight-loss drug purchased online found instead they were ingesting a fake with dangerous levels of sibutramine, with serious consequences, including stroke.

IMPACT: Difficulty in breathing, muscle spasms, and muscle stiffness, high blood pressure, stroke.


No Drugs at All.

Medications with no active ingredients, or insufficient quantities, can harm you by not correcting your illness. In recent cases these fake medicines with no drugs at all in them have impacted cancer patients and asthmatics with dire consequences.

Three incidents of fake cancer medications have duped not only the very sick, but also their doctors.

Hazim Gaber sold starch, dextrin, dextrose and lactose to cancer patients seeking an experimental cancer drug called dicholoracetate (DCA) for over $100 a shipment.  Patients received no therapeutic value from the sugar and starch. He pleaded guilty in US court in May 2010.

19 US cancer clinics had purchased medications from outside the approved supply for a vital chemotherapy and may have received counterfeit Avastin, announced the FDA announced in February 2012.  Instead of vital tumor killing bevacizumab, they received a cocktail of starch, salt, paint thinner, and other common chemicals probably used to mimic the real thing, as well as chemicals left over from cleaning or bottling the imitation medication.  Another batch of counterfeit Avastin was found in Shanghai, made of saline riddled with bacterial endotoxin, causing infections in 61 people in September 2010.

Asthmatics, who depend upon their inhalers to keep them breathing after an attack, were duped by counterfeit asthma inhaler medication that administered no more than a third of a necessary dose. The British seller pleaded guilty in June 2011.

IMPACT: Even if the medication you ingest contains no poisons or wrong medications, a potentially life-saving medication without an active ingredient will cause harm, and potentially death.


Learn more about how to purchase medication safely online from our pamphlet "Save Money Safely From Online Pharmacies." And ask your doctornurse and pharmacist if they've read the six steps to becoming a LEADER in the fight to protect patient safety