7 Scariest Counterfeit Drugs
When we pick up a prescription at the pharmacy or open a mail-order package, few of us question whether what's in the bottle is what we ordered. But according to government reports, marketing counterfeit drugs is one of the world's fastest-growing industries. And although the problem is most acute in the developing world -- where fake vaccines, antimalarials, and antiretrovirals for controlling AIDS threaten whole populations -- it's a growing threat here too. Of the 4 billion prescriptions filled in the United States each year, as many as 40 million may be filled with fake drugs, according to the World Health Organization's most conservative estimates. (That's just one percent of all prescriptions; in countries with weaker oversight it can be as high as 25 percent of all prescriptions.) The U.S. is becoming a favorite market for counterfeiters, because annually Americans buy 40 percent of the world's prescription drugs.
Why are counterfeit drugs so dangerous? Many contain only inactive ingredients, so your health condition goes untreated. In the worst cases, counterfeit drugs contain ingredients that can be dangerous, even poisonous. According to the Partnership for Safe Medicines, examples of fillers found in tested drugs include powdered drywall, antifreeze, and yellow highway paint. It's also impossible to properly regulate dosages with counterfeit drugs; they're often found to be "up-labeled," a process by which legitimate capsules of a low-dose drug are sold in packages labeled with a higher dosage. Perhaps worse, other seized counterfeits have been found to have as much as three times the active ingredient, which could cause serious side effects.
Here are the seven types of drugs most likely to be counterfeit, and how to avoid them:
Counterfeit drug type #1: Erectile dysfunction medications
There's no question about it, expensive so-called "lifestyle" drugs like Viagra, used to treat erectile dysfunction (ED), are the most likely to be counterfeited, perhaps because they're extremely popular and not so easy to bring up with the doctor. In fact, the Pharmaceutical Security Institute reports that 37 percent of all drugs seized are in the category dominated by ED drugs. One problem is that men are avoiding their doctors and buying these medications without a prescription -- unaware that it can be risky for people with heart disease and other conditions. Because sildenafil, the active ingredient in Viagra, works by dilating blood vessels, doctors don't consider it safe to take without a health exam. (To add to the confusion, Cialis, another drug for ED, is also frequently counterfeited but has a different set of potentially dangerous side effects.) Counterfeit Viagra has also been found to contain toxic ingredients including amphetamine or speed, blue printer ink, boric acid, paint, and brick dust -- and too much of the active ingredient, carrying the risk of overdose.
Drugs to watch out for:
How to protect yourself:
No matter how tempting it is to purchase ED drugs anonymously online, save yourself the risk of serious side effects by asking your doctor for the appropriate prescription. Not only that, but erectile dysfunction can be an important clue to other serious health problems such as heart disease, so a full exam could be lifesaving.