Internet awash with fake pharmaceuticals

  • 23 November 2008

A recent study has prompted the ICC Counterfeiting Intelligence Bureau (CIB) to warn against purchasing pharmaceuticals online.

Despite the significant health risks of purchasing counterfeit pharmaceutical products, a Royal Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain (RPSGB) commissioned survey found that over two million people across Britain regularly purchase drugs from online retailers.

Although many legitimate pharmacies offer online sales, an alarming number of websites selling pharmaceuticals are operated by individuals with no professional health care qualifications. Of the over $11 Million USD worth of drugs seized by the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Authority (MHRA), half is believed to be counterfeit.

CIB Manager Max Vetter commented: “This research highlights the lack of public awareness regarding the dangers of buying pharmaceuticals online. The online sale and purchase of pharmaceuticals involves virtually no regulation or product control, allowing counterfeiters to act with relative impunity. This poses serious health risks for the purchasing public.”

Cost savings is one of the largest motivations for purchasing drugs online. Counterfeit versions of branded products, such as Viagra, are available online for as little as one fifth of the value of genuine, branded products.

Mr Vetter noted: “The best case scenario for the recipients of counterfeit drugs is one where the imitation products they purchase contain little or no active ingredients. Unfortunately, this not always the case as many counterfeit drugs sold online have been found to contain lethal substances with the potential to cause long-term harm or death to unwitting consumers.”

The 2007 death of a Canadian woman who purchased drugs online serves as a cautionary reminder of the dangers of this trade. The 57 year old woman died from metal poisoning after having ingested tablets she purchased online. It was discovered later that the website she purchased pills from was known to have previously dealt counterfeit products. The victim was found to have, amongst other metals, traces of uranium, arsenic and barium in her liver. After further analysis, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police discovered all of these elements present in the counterfeit pills she purchased online.

In response to growing concerns about consumer safety, RPSGB has launched an initiative where a specific logo will appear on pharmacy websites approved by the organization. The presence of this logo will provide shoppers with the confidence that the website they are purchasing pharmaceuticals from is associated with a legitimate pharmacy operated by individuals with the appropriate professional qualifications and health care expertise.