The real dangers of counterfeit drugs

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In the late 90s, ordering drugs online became a trend among many. Everything was newly available from Eastern Europe and further abroad, low budget versions of some of the world’s most desired pharma products, including Lorazepam, Sildenafil, Sertraline, Oxycodone, and even purple cough syrups still offering a Codeine/Promethazine mix.

Situations where people carried about weekly reminder pill cases carrying prescription drugs they hadn’t been prescribed became common, and two disquieting possibilities became evident: the drugs were either fakes and worthless or were somehow real and shared a similar composition to popular prescription brands.

The thing is, not everyone that purchases counterfeit drugs thinks it’s wrong, many feel they should, due to what they consider to be high treatment costs for serious health problems.

Others do so because they honestly think they’re buying original merchandise. Most modern shoppers can tell an Apple iPad or a Samsung Tab from a low budget knock-off, but are not so savvy when it comes to meds.

Anyone that buys a counterfeit drug, regardless of purpose, is susceptible to the same risks:

  • The drug may be a placebo. This is a huge issue when it comes to taking part in a treatment program where specific results are required and directly attributable to the medication’s influence. By taking ineffective medication, the people that genuinely need to derive benefit from the drug simply can’t.
  • The drug may be a less effective version of the genuine medicine. Similar to a placebo, these sorts of counterfeits are less easily detectable as they often contain a reduced amount of the active ingredient. These copycats are usually concentrated enough to pass cursory inspections, but not potent enough to be a proper part of a treatment.
  • Some counterfeits can have unknown side effects, based on the substances used as “filler” as well as the interaction between the “filler” and the active ingredients (if any). While pharmaceutical firms are normally direct about the possible side effects of their products, counterfeits offer a veritable roulette wheel of interactive effects that simply can’t be catalogued accurately.
  • Toxicity can be an issue, especially if the counterfeit is produced at a source where hygiene and proper procedures aren’t followed properly.

These are all serious issues that tend to cause most of to take notice because one way or another, we’re all consumers. Being conscious of the problem is the first step, though it certainly isn’t enough. It is estimated that 10% of all pharmaceuticals in the international supply chain are counterfeit, and in some parts of the world, where profiteering is the order of the day, this number shoots up to a staggering 70%.

The Center for Medicine in the Public Interest, in its 2005 report on drug counterfeiting, estimated that at the time, international sales of counterfeit medications were costing the pharma industry about 35 of their 329 Billion USD every year. Factoring in a reasonable rate of growth, estimates show that by now, we could be talking about 123 Billion USD of the nearly 1 Trillion USD pharma industry. When dealing with numbers that big, it’s easy to justify the practices of manufacturing and purchasing counterfeits, but what consumers consistently fail to understand are the actual costs that go into the research, development, and production of any new drug. Cures for a variety of illnesses may be around the corner but halted due to a lack of funding, thanks to counterfeits taking more and more market space. Sure, they may be “sticking it to the man”, but they’re doing so at the cost of advancements that could benefit their children and their children’s children.