Deadly Fake Prescription Drugs Are Becoming A Very Scary Problem

pills spilling from a bottle
Pina Messina / Unsplash

Real Clear Science is reporting that there has been an alarming rise in fake prescription drugs in the Western world. Though the issue was previously isolated mainly to third world countries and poor communities, it has been spreading dramatically and can have devastating effects.

The problem with fake medications is that they are both difficult to trace and difficult to detect. Since the drugs are made in multiple global locations, production is nearly impossible to find and shut down. Moreover, many of the pills often look, taste, and smell like the authentic drug.

The United Nations’ World Health Organization estimates that around 1-10 percent of all medicine in “low and middle-income” countries are fake. However, other studies have suggested that the estimate is grossly low. For example, a review found that in Africa, a region particularly afflicted with the issue, a staggering 70 percent of infection-based medicine was fake. Many of these fake medications can be toxic or ineffective.

Though WHO cannot exactly estimate how high the number is in well-developed countries, they have warned that the issue is on the rise. A recent survey from Sweden’s Lund University, under researchers Susanne Lundin and Rui Liu, found that over a third of patients in the Scandinavian country believe that they were given fake medications.

Moreover, evidence of falsified drugs have been found in other European countries.

“A falsified cancer drug, Avastin, was recently discovered by a wholesaler in the Netherlands,” Lundin and Liu wrote in a paper published in The Conversation.

“In Germany, both falsified cancer and HIV medicines have ended up in the legitimate supply chain in recent years.”

In a recent Interpol sting, over 10 million fake medications were seized in the span of one week. The medications spanned a stunning 123 different countries and were worth an estimated $14 million. Many of the fake medications were sold through illegal websites. Interpol shut down the black market sites, which numbered at 3,671 total. Despite the socialized healthcare in Sweden, the Nordic country had 175 illegal websites based in its country alone.

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Pills in woman's hand
  Pina Messina / Unsplash

Researchers said that part of the growth of illegal drugs was due to online pharmacies. Though many online pharmacies are legitimate, others are not. Moreover, fake products are even bleeding into the legal market, and scientists worry that it is just a matter of time before it becomes a major crisis.

Though many fake drugs may be at times almost impossible to detect, the researchers encourage patients to be vigilant about checking for logos and being aware of any changes in pill shape or color. They also advise patients to be wary of filling prescriptions in vacation spots and never sharing medications.