The Dangers of Counterfeit Prescription Drugs
It is no secret that prescription medications can be quite expensive. Some attempt to offset the expense by getting counterfeit medication, which is simply fake medication, according to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). This article will discuss some of the more common counterfeit prescription medications available (although one can find any prescription medication in a counterfeit form) and the reasons why these medications may be dangerous.
Common Counterfeit Prescription Medications
Several different groups of prescription medications are commonly offered on the Internet and through other sources in a counterfeit form. These include:
- Medications for cardiovascular conditions: The leading cause of death in the United States is heart disease, and many individuals attempt to buy prescribed drugs on the Internet as opposed to getting them from a legitimate US pharmacy.
- Medications for obesity or weight loss: There is a large market for these drugs, and counterfeit versions of these drugs are common.
- Antibiotics: A number of different sites offer counterfeit antibiotics. Many of these do not actually work.
- Drugs for cancer: In recent years, a number of counterfeit cancer drugs have been marketed in the United States.
- Drugs for erectile dysfunction: A large share of the counterfeit prescription drug market is focused on drugs for erectile dysfunction. The Pharmaceutical Security Institute, a nonprofit organization designed to spot counterfeit prescription drugs, reports that over a third of counterfeit drugs seized are for erectile dysfunction.
- Medications for pain: Counterfeit narcotic medications are an increasing problem in the United States.
- Specific medications for chronic conditions: Medications prescribed for ailments such as diabetes, HIV, and even dementia are becoming more popular in the counterfeit drug market.
- Psychiatric medications: Drug counterfeiters have made a good market out of fake psychiatric medications, including medications for depression, anxiety, and ADHD.
The Dangers of Counterfeit Prescription Medications
There are number dangers associated with purchasing counterfeit prescription medications. According to a number of organizations, such as the FDA, the main dangers associated with buying counterfeit medications is that these medications have no regulations governing their ingredients. Manufacturers of counterfeit medications do not answer to any regulatory body regarding what they put in their product. This means that individuals buying these medications have no idea what they are buying. These medications generally do not have the actual ingredients they are supposed to have, contain dangerous additives such as heavy metals, may have dangerous doses of medications, or may not have the active medication in them at all. For instance:
- In 2012, the FDA put out a warning bulletin in 15 states to warn physicians’ offices that they may have purchased counterfeit versions of the cancer drug Avastin. The counterfeit versions contain no active ingredients but simply water and acetone (a solvent).
- A number of counterfeit drugs manufactured in China have dangerous additives such as heavy metals.
- A counterfeit version of Adderall being sold to US buyers contained tramadol (a narcotic pain medication) and acetaminophen (a nonprescription pain reliever).
- A Korean researcher found that over one-quarter of counterfeit prescription medications for erectile dysfunction contained dangerous additives such as heavy metals, whereas over half of the medications contained over two times the proper dosage.
The majority of counterfeit medications are marketed on the Internet and purchased by both consumers and medical professionals. There are numerous examples of issues, contamination, incorrect dosages, or lack of active ingredients with these medications. Serious issues have been reported as a result of these of counterfeit medications, including the development of infections, serious medical conditions, and even death in individuals who use these. Individuals who buy counterfeit prescription medications in an effort to save money should heed the warning “buyer beware.”
How to Identify Counterfeit Prescription Medications
There are a number of steps that consumers can take to reduce the risk of getting counterfeit prescription medications. These include:
- Purchase should require a prescription. If an individual is buying a controlled substance online or from some other source, and they do not have to produce a evidence that they have a prescription for the drug the from a physician, chances are they are buying a counterfeit drug.
- Check the source. If the online source does not have a licensed pharmacist on staff, there is a good chance that most of the medications from that source are counterfeit.
- Check the website of the drug manufacturer. The manufacture of the drug will often have information on counterfeit versions of the drug.
- Assess the price. Check the price that the seller is advertising against the standard price of the drug. If the price is too good to be true, the drug is most likely counterfeit.
- Check the drugs themselves. When buying prescription medications from an online source, it is important to check the drugs themselves against the actual drug in order to make sure that the drug is legitimate. One can do this with a pharmacy manual or sources online, or one can take the drugs to their local pharmacist and have the pharmacist examine them.
- Check the FDA website and the National Board of Pharmacy website for announcements. Before taking the drug, check with these organizations regarding bulletins related to counterfeit versions of the drugs in question.
It may seem like a lot of work to verify if the medication one is buying online is real or not, but given the potential dangers, it is important to make sure that one is not purchasing a counterfeit medication that may be actually harmful. The safest way to avoid counterfeit medications is to buy medications from legitimate, trusted sellers, such as a local pharmacy that has a registered and licensed pharmacist on staff.