Also called “out of specification”, these are authorized medical products that fail to meet either their quality standards or specifications, or both.
Medical products that deliberately/fraudulently misrepresent the identity, composition or source.
Medical products that have not undergone evaluation and/or approval by the National or Regional Regulatory Authority (NRRA) for the market in which they are marketed/distributed or used, subject to permitted conditions under national or regional regulation and legislation.
The WHO also cautions drug consumers about the poor, unhygienic and uncontrolled conditions that drugs can be stored in.
Even more worryingly – some falsified medications have been found to contain fatal levels of the active ingredient or even toxic chemicals, sometimes leading to multiple fatalities.
The problem is most acute in the developing world – particularly in Africa and Asia. In 2010, the WHO estimated that 10% of drugs in developing countries were counterfeit. In some areas the problem is enormous - one study into counterfeit drugs in Nigeria in 2011 found that 64% of antimalarial drugs were counterfeit.
The problem, however, is not just restricted to the developing world. While the percentage of counterfeit drugs is dramatically lower in Europe and North America - there is a growing problem of counterfeit medicines entering the market - some of which can be very serious: In 2008 for example, fake versions of the blood-thinner Heparin imported from China were implicated in the death of 81 people,
Look carefully at the packaging or box compare the labels – are the barcodes, fonts and colors identical? Is the spelling and punctuation accurate? Is the the right information there?
Is it the correct dosage and number of tablets?
Does it have precisely the same active ingredients?
Compare the pill or capsules themselves –
is the casing or tablet identical?
Has it discoloured?
Does it smell funny?
These are just of some of the ways you can help identify whether drugs might be counterfeit. To be 100% sure you’d need to have the drugs checked by a specialist lab or use something like a portable counterfeit scanner, but these tips will help you ensure that the drugs you are buying are the genuine article.
Aside from these tips that can help you identify counterfeit drugs, there are several other steps you can take to ensure that your medication is safe and genuine when buying online.
Firstly – always ensure that your drugs are sourced from a responsible, legal and registered company that you can both physically and legally locate. Many online ‘pharmacies’ and suppliers can be suspect in this way.
Secondly, make certain that the company you are getting your drugs from ensures that your drugs are stored and transported to you in the proper conditions so that you know that the drugs reaching you are going to work.
Finally, you can get in touch with organisations with specific expertise. OncSolved specialise in helping patients identify and source genuine medications.
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Fda.gov. (2017). Counterfeit Version of Avastin in U.S. Distribution. [online] Available at: https://www.fda.gov/Drugs/DrugSafety/ucm291960.htm [Accessed 20 Oct. 2017].
Pociask, MA, S., Fuhr, Jr, PhD, J. and Blackstone, PhD, E. (2017). The Health and Economic Effects of Counterfeit Drugs. [online] Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4105729/ [Accessed 20 Oct. 2017].
The Economist. (2017). Bad medicine. [online] Available at: http://www.economist.com/node/21564546 [Accessed 20 Oct. 2017].
WHOa. (2017). WHO MEMBER STATE MECHANISM ON SUBSTANDARD/SPURIOUS/FALSELYLABELLED/FALSIFIED/COUNTERFEIT (SSFFC) MEDICAL PRODUCTS. [online] Available at: http://www.who.int/medicines/regulation/ssffc/A70_23-en1.pdf [Accessed 20 Oct. 2017].
World Health Organization. (2017). Substandard, spurious, falsely labelled, falsified and counterfeit (SSFFC) medical products. [online] Available at: http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs275/en/index.html [Accessed 20 Oct. 2017].