What threat does counterfeit medicine pose to us?
When you pick up your medication from the local pharmacist, getting a legitimate, safe, and approved drug is a safe bet. Or is it? While many people have ready and easy access to regulated pharmaceutical medicines and healthcare, not everyone is fortunate enough to be in the same position.
The cost of some pharmaceutical medications, particularly those under patent without a generic alternative, can put them out of reach for many low-income consumers, particularly if they don’t have access to healthcare schemes or health insurance.
Demand also plays a huge role in fake or counterfeit medications. When there is a spike in a particular disease or virus, such as we saw with the recent COVID-19 pandemic, demand exceeds supply, and unscrupulous companies step in to take advantage of the situation.
Another area that fuels demand and allows counterfeit medications to enter the market is conditions with a certain social stigma. Conditions such as erectile dysfunction, weight loss, and addiction often leave patients too embarrassed or ashamed to seek medical attention from their regular physician. They then go to online pharmacies to seek this medication, with many receiving fake or counterfeit versions in exchange.
There have been a rising number of cases globally of fake medications, from counterfeit birth control pills and cough syrup for kids that contained opioids to antimalarial tablets that contained nothing except cornstarch and potato. In addition, the numbers of fake or counterfeit medications, vaccines, and testing kits are on the rise, but what can be done about it?
Fake and Counterfeit Medications Pose Global Concern
While many fake drugs and vaccines are an issue in low to middle-income countries, the problem is starting to creep into many western countries thanks to the rise of online pharmacies.
According to a survey conducted by the Global Alliance for Safe Online Pharmacies in 2021, almost 50% of Americans have ordered drugs online, and half of those believed that online pharmacies are monitored, regulated, and approved by the FDA.
Interestingly, the same survey shows that 95% of online pharmacies globally operate illegally. It makes you second guess who you’re ordering medication from, where that medication comes from, and what it contains.
The rise of online pharmacies has given fake drug producers easier access to consumers in developed countries that ordinarily have highly regulated systems in place to prevent unauthorized medications from infiltrating the supply chain.
In 2021, Interpol led an operation in conjunction with 92 countries that successfully shut down thousands of illegal online pharmacies selling fake or unauthorized medication, confiscated over nine million illegal medications, three million drugs in the U.K., and thousands of counterfeit surgical masks.
Fake drugs may range from low-quality versions of the original medication, complete with legitimate packaging and inferior medicinal benefits, to dangerous rip-offs containing ingredients that could potentially cause life-threatening complications and death.
In many cases, fake medications are produced in one country, packaged in another, then shipped and sold from another. As a result, illegitimate drugs entering the legitimate drug supply chain is a rising concern for many governments.
Counterfeit Medication – The Solution
Global pharmaceutical companies are aware of the issue, taking proactive steps to remedy the situation and making it harder for fake medications and vaccines to enter the legitimate pharmaceutical supply chain.
In an earlier blog, we spoke about new technology which allows companies to print QR codes directly onto medications and packaging. Consumers can then scan these QR codes and confirm that their medicine is legitimate. It also allows government bodies to track medicines from manufacture to the point of sale, monitoring and tracking the entire supply chain.
Counterfeit medication is no longer limited to undeveloped or third-world countries. They are everywhere and look and taste just like the legitimate medication they are impersonating but are untested, unregulated, and highly dangerous.
If you are buying medication anywhere except a legitimate pharmacy, you could be endangering your health or the health of a loved one. Government health departments, law enforcement agencies, and pharmaceutical companies are working extremely diligently to reduce the threat of these fake drugs. Still, it’s essential that we, as the public understand the risks of buying and using these cheap drugs.
If you believe you may have purchased counterfeit medication, you can report it to the FDA here. There are also some great resources available on the FDA website about how to confirm whether or not an online pharmacy is legitimate and operating within state and federal laws.
Laxxon Medical is dedicated to engineering patented 3D pharmaceutical solutions which optimize products and benefit patients. We aim to establish SPID®-Technology as a manufacturing process with the individual and the pharmaceutical partner in mind.