Counterfeit Diabetes Treatments Show Up All Over the Globe

In late 2006, the US Food and Drug Administration initiated a class one recall of counterfeit OneTouch blood glucose test strips. Over 1 million counterfeit OneTouch test strips had turned up all over the United States.  In citing the reasons for the recall, the FDA stated, “These counterfeit test strips could give incorrect blood glucose values, either too high or too low, which might result in a patient taking either too much or too little insulin. This could lead to serious injury or death.”1  Manufacture of the bogus test strips was traced to Mainland China, and distribution within the US to medical distributors based in both the US and Canada.2

Five years later, more counterfeit OneTouch test strips turned up, this time in India.3 Counterfeit versions of glucose test strips have also turned up in Egypt and Pakistan.  Even the United Kingdom was not immune, as demonstrated by the case of counterfeit insulin pen needles that were found for sale in the UK in March 2009.  Authorities in the UK were only alerted to the counterfeit insulin pens by diabetic customers, who found the pens to be useless.4

Counterfeit drugs are a growth industry, with the World Health Organization estimating that 10% of all drugs for sale globally are counterfeit.5   An FDA study conducted in 2004 found that all the drugs purchased from so-called Canadian online pharmacies were counterfeit or substandard when subjected to testing.6  Even the Canadian government has published a warning to Canadian consumers about the dangers of buying prescription drugs from Internet sites that pose as Canadian online pharmacies, saying “As law enforcement in both the U.S. and Canada have observed, some illegal Internet pharmacies mimic the appearance of licensed sites or disguise themselves as originating from Canada to take advantage of U.S. consumers seeking Canadian pharmaceuticals. Therefore, consumers may have difficulty discerning between legitimate and illegal sites.”7

The story of Nigeria’s Dr. Dora Akunyili’s entry into the fight against counterfeit drugs could not be more personal or more tragic.  She began her campaign against counterfeit drugs in 1988, after witnessing the death of her 21 year-old sister due to what she suspects was counterfeit insulin.8 Now director general of Nigeria’s National Agency for Drug and Food Administration, she sees only too clearly the dangers of counterfeit drugs.  “Counterfeit drugs are murder,” Dr. Akunyill told the BBC. “It is the highest form of terrorism against public health because it kills a mass.”9

 

1. FDA, October 2006, “Counterfeit OneTouch® Basic®/Profile® Blood Glucose Test Strips, Class 1 Recall,” http://www.fda.gov/MedicalDevices/Safety/ListofRecalls/ucm062709.htm.

2, 8. May Cheng, November 2009, “Is the Drugstore Safe? Counterfeit Diabetes Products on the Shelves,” http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2787054/.

3. Partnership for Safe Medicines, April 26, 2011, “Fake Diabetes Test Strips Found In India,” http://www.safemedicines.org/2011/04/fake-diabetes-test-strips-found-in-india-226.html.

4. Partnership for Safe Medicines Drug Incident Encyclopedia, March 27, 2009, “Counterfeit Insulin Needles Found In The UK,” http://www.safemedicines.org/2009/08/counterfeit-i.html.

5  World Health Organization, “World Health Statistics, 2012,” http://www.who.int/gho/publications/world_health_statistics/2012/en/index.html.

6. FDA, July 13, 2004, “FDA Test Results of Prescription Drugs from Bogus Canadian Website Show All Products Are Fake and Substandard,” http://www.fda.gov/NewsEvents/Newsroom/PressAnnouncements/2004/ucm108320.htm.

7. Criminal Intelligence Service Canada, April 2010, “Counterfeit Pharmaceuticals in Canada,” http://www.cisc.gc.ca/pharmaceuticals/pharmaceuticals_e.html.

9. BBCNews, July 12, 2005, “One woman’s war with fake drugs,” http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/programmes/this_world/4656627.stm.