Counterfeit medicine, or fake medicine, is on the rise. Although the issue is more common in developing countries, people in the U.S. are not immune to this global threat. Below are some answers to common questions about keeping counterfeit medicine out of your cabinet.
Q: What exactly are counterfeit medicines?
A: Counterfeit medicines are medicines that are fake. They are also illegal and possibly dangerous to your health. Counterfeits are usually manufactured in substandard environments. And they’re made by organizations that typically do not adhere to Food and Drug Administration (FDA) or other regulatory 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 taking counterfeit medicines is that they are manufactured using incorrect or harmful ingredients. Counterfeit medicines could be contaminated, have no medicine, have too little or too much medicine, or even contain the wrong medicine. Along with not having the correct amount of medicine, counterfeit medicines may also contain things like chalk and powdered concrete.
Another concern is that you may not get the health benefits you expect from the medicine. For example, a drug you count on to lower your cholesterol may not actually provide any benefit at all because it doesn’t contain the correct ingredients.
Q: How serious of a problem is the counterfeiting of prescription medicines?
A: In developing countries, it’s estimated that 10% to 30% of all medicines sold are counterfeit. In the U.S. and other industrialized countries, it’s estimated that less than 1% are counterfeit medicines. However, counterfeit medicine is becoming a more serious problem.
According to a 2014 report from the Government Accountability Office, an estimated 36,000 rogue global online pharmacies violated FDA laws and regulations, some of which included selling counterfeit medicines and medicines not approved in the U.S.
Q: How do I know if I’ve purchased a counterfeit medicine?
A: In some cases, you might notice that a medicine you’re taking has a different taste, texture, color, or shape 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. Fake medicines may appear identical to the real medicine. That’s why it’s important to purchase prescription drugs in the U.S. from a state-licensed pharmacy and from a pharmacist with whom you’re familiar.
Q: How can I avoid buying counterfeit drugs?
A: The best way to avoid counterfeit drugs is to purchase prescription medicines from a licensed pharmacy in the U.S. from a reputable pharmacist.
If you fill your prescription online, always see your doctor and get a prescription first. Don’t buy medications from online pharmacies that are located outside of the U.S. or that sell medications without prescriptions.
You should also use an online pharmacy verified by the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy (NABP) when you buy prescription medicines online. This association helps ensure the public’s health and safety through its pharmacy programs. The NABP’s Verified Internet Pharmacy Practice Sites (VIPPS®) program only certifies pharmacies that meet state licensing and inspection requirements. Use the VIPPS®-accredited 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 drug?
A: Talk to your doctor, and then tell your pharmacist, 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 1-800-FDA-1088) or the approved manufacturer of the medicine.
Q: What is Pfizer doing to combat the counterfeiting problem?
A: Experts at Pfizer are assessing technologies to make it more difficult to counterfeit medicines, as well as ways to make it easier to tell the real drugs from fake ones. Their anti-counterfeiting labs use high-tech devices to detect counterfeit drugs as well as to help identify the makers and dealers of these illegal, fake medicines.
In addition, the company works with wholesalers, pharmacies, customs offices, and law enforcement around the world. By working together, they can inspect and monitor medicine distributors and those who repackage medicines. To further help law enforcement prevent counterfeit Pfizer drugs from reaching patients, the company has trained experts from 151 countries.
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