Don't be fooled by fake prescription drugs masquerading as legitimate medicines, as using them may worsen your health conditions.
They are everywhere
Counterfeit prescriptions are fake drugs. They are a public health risk and serious concern for everyone.
Counterfeit prescription drugs are a growing trend all over the world.
• In 2018, the World Health Organization (WHO) estimated that counterfeit or substandard drugs made up as much at 11% of the drug supply in some countries. Resulting in 144,000 deaths annually.
♦ In 2020, an OECD study estimated that 72,000 to 169,000 children will die from pneumonia and over 100,000 people will die from malaria because they were treated with counterfeit drugs.
OECD stands for: Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development.
• In 2018, Pfizer identified 95 fake products in 113 countries.
♦ Counterfeit drugs pose a very serious problem in impoverished nations, resulting in thousands of deaths.
♦ Many believe that fake drugs are only a threat to low- and middle-income countries. That is not true.
Counterfeit drugs have been present in developed countries, including America, for some time now. They have become even more available since the COVID-19 pandemic increased online purchases.
The drug supply in the United States is among the safest and most controlled in the world. It has been estimated that possibly 1% of prescription drugs sold in the U.S. are counterfeit.
♦ Drug shortages and high prices are an invitation for counterfeit or substandard drugs to enter a market.
Some counterfeit prescription drugs are sold to wholesalers that create false records to make the drugs look legitimate. The drugs are then passed off to pharmacies, nursing homes, hospitals and doctors' offices.
♦ Counterfeit prescription drugs are illegal and may be hazardous to your health. They are fake medicines not produced to the specifications of the drugs they claim to be.
Many counterfeit prescription drugs have been found to be contaminated or contain the wrong ingredients or no active ingredient. Some have the right active ingredient but with the wrong dosage.
Counterfeit prescription drugs are a billion-dollar industry. Generally any high priced prescription drug is a preferred target. Both brand-name and generic drugs are susceptible to counterfeiting.
• Pain medicine and antibiotics are frequently counterfeited and even medications for pets.
Lifestyle drugs like Viagra are popular counterfeits which are heavily promoted on the internet and unsolicited emails.
In addition to pharmaceuticals, medical devices and medical related products have also been counterfeited, including blood glucose test strips, contact lenses, surgical instruments and implants.
♦ In 2021, a group operating out of Texas was arrested for selling $52 million dollars' worth of counterfeit cough medicine.
Examples of counterfeit drugs
• Counterfeit Botox was found in doctor's offices and clinics.
• Counterfeit Cialis 20 mg tablets were found in the mail bound for an online consumer.
• In 2015, FDA labs confirmed a counterfeit version of a cancer drug called Altuzan was being distributed in the United States. It contained no active ingredient. The drug is licensed for use in Turkey but not in the U.S. Fake Altuzan is still being found in foreign countries.
• In 2016, the FDA sent out an alert that a counterfeit version of the cancer drug BiCNU had been detected in some foreign countries. It does not appear to have entered the U.S. market.
• In 2021, the DEA seized more than 9.5 million counterfeit pills. An alarming number contained a lethal dose of the drug fentanyl.
People are dying
Drug poisoning deaths are at their highest recorded level. They are now the leading cause of injury death in the United States.
♦ In 2015, approximately 140 people died every day from drug poisoning.
Deaths from drug poisoning have been increasing every year since 2011. They now outnumber deaths by firearms, motor vehicle crashes, suicide and homicide.
♦ The CDC reported that from June 2016 to June 2017 there were 66,000 drug-related deaths compared to 40,000 vehicle-related deaths.
• Not all drug-related deaths can be blamed on fake drugs.
Many are due to a variety of reasons like taking too large a dose, taking in combination with other drugs or even being prescribed the wrong medicine.
• In 2016, nine people in Florida died after taking a counterfeit anxiety medication called Xanax®, which contained the opioid fentanyl.
• In the spring of 2016, twelve people in California died from taking counterfeit hydrocodone tablets
• In 2020, the CDC said that more than 93,000 people died of a drug overdose in the U.S. The synthetic opioid fentanyl was the primary driver.
Tips for avoiding counterfeit drugs
• Be aware of appearance — closely examine the packaging and lot numbers of prescription drugs and pay attention to any changes from one prescription refill to the next.
• Use a Google search to find an image of your medication and compare it with the prescription you received from your pharmacy.
• Understand that a generic version will not look the same as the brand name version.
• Smell it. Does it smell funny?
• If you are taking a generic and suddenly the color or shape changes, ask your pharmacist to explain. The pharmacy may have sourced the generic from a different manufacturer.
• Consult your pharmacist or physician if your prescription drug looks suspicious.
• Alert your pharmacist and physician immediately if your medication causes adverse side effects or if your condition does not improve.
The greatest risk of running into counterfeit drugs comes from buying from Internet pharmacies. Learn how to shop online and what to watch out for when buying prescriptions online.
Older people are targets
Counterfeit drugs are more likely to target Americans age 50 or older. This segment of the population is responsible for 71% of prescriptions.
• In the past, drugs like Botox and Viagra were popular for counterfeiters. Now counterfeit lifesaving drugs, including medications for cancer, high cholesterol and mental health conditions are common.
Medications for obesity or weight loss have counterfeit versions. Drugs for erectile dysfunction have a particularly large number of counterfeit versions. Psychiatric medications, including drugs for depression, anxiety, and ADHD have many fake drugs.
Counterfeit medications for pain are a very big problem for the United States. Many pain medicines are a form of narcotic.
♦ In 2015, 18.9 million people aged 12 or older misused prescriptions. Of this number, 12.5 million misused pain relievers.
Fentanyl, an opioid, is used as a pain medication and together with other medications for anesthesia. Fentanyl is synthesized in laboratories entirely from chemicals, unlike drugs such as heroin, which require plant-based alkaloids. Fentanyl can be used by injection, skin patch, nasal spray or taken by mouth.
♦ Popular prescription opioids, such as oxycodone and hydrocodone represent the bulk of counterfeit pain medications.
Fentanyl traffickers use pill presses to produce pills that resemble oxycodone and hydrocodone. The pills are sold illegally and users typically do not realize the pills are laced with fentanyl.
In many cases, the color, markings, and shape of the counterfeit pills are consistent with authentic prescription medications. The presence of fentanyl may only be determined during laboratory analysis.
The high profitability of counterfeit prescription pills laced with fentanyl is a strong incentive for traffickers to continue producing them. These pills often retail for between $10 and $20 a piece in illicit street markets, potentially netting traffickers millions of dollars in profit.
♦ In 2016, law enforcement agencies learned of the availability of fentanyl in new forms, such as on blotter paper, in eye droppers, and in nasal sprays. While the majority of illicit fentanyl is distributed in powder and pill forms, traffickers are experimenting with new preparations to expand the market.