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Arthur Elk: Counterfeit drugs are dangerous problem, even in our country

By Arthur Elk

Most of us have probably filled a prescription in the past year, whether it is medicine for a chronic health problem or antibiotics to treat an illness. More than 4 billion prescriptions are filled in the United States each year. We all trust that the medicines we buy contain the ingredients they are supposed to and will not cause us any harm. However, even with all the governmental oversight and control over the pharmaceutical industry in our country, there are still millions of fake prescriptions handed out each year, especially from online pharmacies.

According to estimates from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy, 1 to 2 percent of drugs sold in the U.S. are counterfeit. That means that 4 million prescriptions are given out each year that contain no active ingredient, an insufficient amount of active ingredients or they contain useless or even toxic fillers.

The NABP says the most common way that people receive counterfeit drugs in the U.S. is by ordering from rogue Internet drug sites. This is because it is easier for unscrupulous people to get around the regulatory safeguards that brick and mortar pharmacies must follow. It is very rare for counterfeit drugs to be purchased from legitimate brick and mortar pharmacies.

In 2009, a FDA crackdown on unauthorized online pharmacies led to authorities seizing more than 800 packages of prescriptions including Viagra, Vicodin and antihistamines. Some of these pills had three times the level of active ingredients they were supposed to have, while others had none. They found fillers including drywall, antifreeze and yellow highway line paint.

Drugs that are most likely to be counterfeited in the U.S. are costly, high-demand prescriptions such as products for erectile dysfunction, high cholesterol, hypertension, cancer and psychiatric conditions.

The National Association of Boards of Pharmacy offers some red flags for consumers concerned that they may have counterfeit drugs:

  •  Packaging that appears to have been opened
  • Labels that don’t match those seen in the past
  •  Medicines that are cracked or chipped
  • Medicines that have a different color or shape than you are used to
  • A medicine with a different taste or texture
  • Side effects that you have not experience before or that are not mentioned on warning labels.

If you think you have a fake drug, please contact the FDA’s Medwatch program at http://www.fda.gov/Safety/MedWatch/default.htm or 1-800-332-1088. You also can contact your state pharmacy board, the manufacturer or the pharmacist who dispensed the drug.

I am outraged that millions of prescriptions are sold each year in our country that contain the wrong ingredients – ingredients that may kill or injure an innocent person. More must be done to protect us from counterfeit drugs. The Institute of Medicine issued a report earlier this month that called for a national drug-tracking system. In its report, the institute urged the use of technology such as barcodes or electronic tags to weed out fake packaging or altered pills. The report also called for states to tighten regulation of drug wholesalers and distributors, tighter controls on Internet pharmacies, and the implantation of World Health Organization guidelines for product safety. All of these would be positive steps toward keeping us all safe from counterfeit drugs.

If you or a loved one has had side effects as the result of a counterfeit drug, you need an experienced drug injury attorney. Please visit our website to see how we can help.