The World Health Organization (WHO) reports that “an estimated 1 in 10 medical products circulating in low- and middle-income countries is either substandard or falsified.”
That’s terrifying information, considering that medicines directly affect our wellness, our health, our life itself.
Why do fake medicines exist?
People buy counterfeit drugs because these may be cheaper and more easily accessible than genuine ones.
It‘s when there are drug shortages that counterfeit drugs enter a market. Many cases reported to WHO are in countries with problematic access to medical products.
Stigma often leads people to buy fake drugs. Viagra is one of the most widely counterfeited drugs.
On the supply side, trading in counterfeit drugs is a lucrative business. With global sales amounting to US$163 billion to $217 billion annually, it’s the most lucrative field in the counterfeit market.
The value of fake medicines sold in the Philippines is estimated at more than P8 billion a year.
Where Do Fake Medicines Come From?
Illegal factories producing substandard and fake medicines exist in both developed and developing countries.
The UN Office on Drugs and Crime reports that China and India are the key production centers of the global trade in counterfeit medicines.
Manufacturers of fake medicines from these countries, in turn, use Myanmar, Vietnam and Thailand as major transit points. These are then shipped to global markets from Singapore, Malaysia, Vietnam and Thailand seaports.
In the Philippines, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has also identified China and India as the source of fake drugs being smuggled into the country.
Now, pharma counterfeiters are using digital networks to enter developed countries.
An increasing number of people now buy medicines and medical devices from online pharmacies and auction sites. Many of these sites are unauthorized, unregulated and trade in illegal or substandard products.
The Dangers of Fake Medicines
Fake drugs could contain incorrect doses, wrong ingredients, an active ingredient meant for a different purpose, or contain no active ingredients at all.
Before, counterfeiters concentrated on lifestyle drugs such as treatments for baldness and erectile dysfunction. Now, they’re selling more fake versions of treatments for tuberculosis, malaria, HIV/AIDS and cancer. Fakes are almost evenly split between generic and patented products.
These counterfeit pharmaceuticals endanger life, health and public safety.
According to WHO, around one million people die globally each year due to fake pharmaceuticals. Counterfeit drugs could worsen a patient’s health problems and cause a failure of treatment. Poor quality drugs also add to the threat of antibiotic resistance, weakening the power of life-saving medicines in the future.
Think of the financial hardships that these grim scenarios could bring to individuals and families.
How to Spot Fake Medicines
It’s easy to be conned by counterfeit medicines. These fake pills often look identical to the authentic ones. Same goes with the packaging. Sometimes, the only way to spot the fake ones is through a laboratory test.
Labels of most counterfeit drugs are poor copies of the original. The pills could be irregularly colored or they can be crushed easily. Check the packaging for information about the manufacturer, date of manufacture and the lot number. Packages of fake drugs often contain only the distributor’s name.
Online, it’s usually a warning sign if a supplier’s physical address isn’t listed, as this indicates that their products may be questionable.
What the FDA is Doing about Fake Medicines
In the Philippines, the FDA leads efforts to raise awareness about the dangers of counterfeit medicines.
Its annual “National Consciousness Week Against Counterfeit Medicines” aims to increase public awareness of fake medicines and stresses the pressing need to stop its proliferation.
Recently, the FDA and the Philippine National Police (PNP) joined forces in efforts to help stop the spread of counterfeit and unregistered food, drugs,cosmetics, and health-related products.
FDA Director General Nela Charade Puno reports that more than P4 million worth of fake medicines, medical devices and cosmetics have been seized by the agency’s Regulatory Enforcement Unit from August 2016 to August 2017.
The FDA is also developing a mobile application where the public can check the status of food, medicines and medical devices, cosmetics, and health products.
The agency has also simplified its product registration process, computerizing much of it for faster registration.
Avoiding Fake Medicines
As consumers, we should be vigilant when buying medicines. To avoid getting fake medicines, we should:
1. Consult qualified healthcare professionals for prescription medicines.
2. Be suspicious if the price is too low.
3. Ask for an official receipt.
4. Inspect labels and packaging.
5. Buy only from licensed and reliable sources of medicines, like GetMed Philippines.
Let us help prevent the spread of fake medicines. Our lives are at stake.