Our medical team offers answers to the most common questions about counterfeit medicines.
Q: What exactly are counterfeit medicines?
A: Counterfeit medicines are essentially medicines that are fake. They are also illegal and possibly dangerous. Counterfeits are usually manufactured in substandard environments. And they’re made by organizations who typically do not adhere to FDA standards or take other appropriate steps to ensure the medicines are safe and effective.
Q: What are the dangers of taking counterfeit medicines?
A: The main danger of counterfeit medicines is you don’t know what’s in them. Sometimes they contain dangerous toxins that can be harmful if consumed. They can also contain too much of an active medicine, which can be dangerous to your health and may even lead to death.
Another concern about taking counterfeit medicines is that you may not be getting the health benefits you expect from the product. For example, a drug you count on to lower your cholesterol level may not actually provide any benefit at all because it doesn’t contain the correct ingredients.
Q: How serious a problem is the counterfeiting of prescription medicines?
A: Although counterfeiting occurs less in the U.S. than other countries, and the vast majority of the prescription drugs that U.S. consumers buy are safe and effective, it is becoming a more serious problem.
According to the FDA, counterfeiting cases have increased over the years. In 1997, the FDA opened 9 counterfeit drug cases, while in 2011 they opened 59 cases.
Q: How do I know if I’ve purchased a counterfeit product?
A: In some cases, you might notice that a medicine you’re taking has a different taste, consistency, or appearance than usual. You might also notice that you have a different reaction to the drug, or that it’s not working the way it usually does.
Often, though, it may be very difficult to know if the medicine you’ve purchased is a counterfeit. That's why it's important to purchase prescription products from a pharmacy and pharmacist with whom you're familiar.
Q: How can I avoid buying counterfeit products?
A: The best way to avoid counterfeit drugs is to purchase prescription medicines at your local pharmacy from a reputable pharmacist whom you know.
If you fill your prescription online, always see your doctor and get a written prescription first. Don't buy medications from online pharmacies that aren't licensed in your country or that offer to write prescriptions or sell medications without prescriptions.
You should also use an online pharmacy certified by the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy (NABP) when you buy prescription medicines online. This association helps ensure the quality and safety of every online prescription. The NABP’s Verified Internet Pharmacy Practice Sites (VIPPS™) program only certifies pharmacies that meet state licensing and inspection requirements. Use the VIPPS certified pharmacy list to choose a VIPPS™–approved online pharmacy when buying prescription medicines online.
Q: What should I do if I think I’ve purchased a counterfeit product?
A: Talk to your doctor, and then tell your pharmacist and the medicine’s manufacturer if you notice anything unusual, or if you have a different reaction to your medicine.
You should also report suspected counterfeiting to the FDA MedWatch Program (or 800-FDA-1088) and to the manufacturer.
Q: What is Pfizer doing to combat the counterfeiting problem?
A: Pfizer continues to explore and apply new technological developments to prevent counterfeiting. The company uses special packaging and printing techniques that make counterfeiting both more difficult to do and easier to spot.
Pfizer is also working to 1) protect legitimate supply chains, 2) stop counterfeits at the source, 3) stop counterfeits at the borders, and 4) monitor the Internet (including Craigslist) for counterfeits. Additionally, the company is committed to increasing cooperation with law enforcement agencies to successfully prosecute counterfeiters as well as promoting proactive public policy that will help eliminate counterfeiting.