Kate Benson

Counterfeit drugs a growing concern in the U.S.

Are you using dangerous or ineffective counterfeit drugs?  Many Americans see counterfeit drugs or incorrect packaging instructions as a problem for developing countries. On the contrary, according to the Wall Street Journal, the recent finding of counterfeit Avastin, a drug used to treat cancer, may be only the tip of the iceberg in the U.S.

The incident  follows the discovery of other fake drugs such as the weight-loss treatment Alli and the influenza treatment Tamiflu in the American drug pipeline.  And more and more medicines and drug ingredients sold in the U.S. are manufactured overseas as was the counterfeit Avastin.  Such counterfeit drugs may lack key ingredients or contain ingredients that are dangerous or cause side effects.

Even in the U.S. drug manufacturers such as Johnson & Johnson and Pfizer Inc. have been battling quality control issues and recalls have been issued for drugs that have been improperly packaged.

In the case of Avastin, the FDA is looking at 19 medical practices that the agency says buy unapproved cancer medicines and might have bought the counterfeit Avastin.  Doctors and hospitals to double-check their sourcing of the product and make sure their supplies are safe.

The Wall Street Journal states,

“Experts say counterfeits are a relatively small but still serious problem for the nation’s drug supply. In the U.S., most prescription medicines are distributed by authorized suppliers, who buy them from their manufacturers and assure their integrity. Pharmacies, too, put pressure on the distributors to ensure quality.

Still counterfeits can enter the drug supply through unauthorized distributors and Internet pharmacies that try to turn a quick profit selling the inauthentic products. Doctors and patients might not know they are using a counterfeit if it doesn’t cause harm but simply fails to work.”

Experts say it is a growing problem. The FDA has been issuing warnings about counterfeits on average once or twice a year. Drug imports are spot checked by customs agents using sophisticated laboratory techniques but the increasing number of drugs shipped from overseas has made it increasingly difficult to monitor the problem.

According to the American Academy of Family Physicians there are steps patients and doctors can also take to lower the risk of using fake drugs.

  • Only order from Internet sites that display an approved membership seal called the Verified Internet Pharmacy Practice Sites (VIPPS) seal issued by the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy Web site.
  • Avoid cross-border purchasing.
  • Examine pill appearance and packaging. In the case of the fake Avastin, the packaging contained fake lot numbers beginning with a letter instead of the manufacturer’s number sequence. As well, the counterfeit bottles of Avastin are missing information on the label, such as “for intravenous use.”

More information regarding counterfeit drugs can be found on the FDA web site.

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