Beware of fake medicine

By Drum Digital
27 June 2014

This week it’s South African National Council on Alcoholism & Drug Dependence’s drug awareness week and today, Thursday 26 June, it’s International Day Against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking, making it a good time to check the medication you take on a regular basis.

This week it’s South African National Council on Alcoholism & Drug Dependence’s drug awareness week  and today, Thursday 26 June, it’s International Day Against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking, making it a good time to check the medication you take on a regular basis.

International pharmaceutical company Sanofi says the sale of fake medicine is growing worldwide as a result of illegal websites and informal stores. This is especially the case in Africa, Asia, Latin-America and emerging economies where the control of pharmaceutical products isn’t as strict as in other countries. And don’t think the problem is limited to medicines for erectile dysfunction or weight loss – it includes medication available online for chronic and less serious conditions such as cardiovascular diseases and cancer.

The dangers

“Counterfeit medicines are a real danger to patients’ health,” writes Dr Caroline Atlani, anti-counterfeiting coordination director at Sanofi, in a recent report titled Sanofi Fights Against Counterfeit Medicines. “They don't contain the expected amount of active ingredient and they don't meet any of the standard requirements for quality, efficiency and safety. So patients run a number of risks: besides the presence of toxic substances, these drugs can be inactive and cause major adverse effects and complications for patients.”

There are other dangers associated with counterfeit medicine, especially when it comes to resistance when treating infectious diseases with antibiotics or anti-malaria medication.

Statistics

The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates between 10 and 15 per cent of all medicine worldwide are counterfeit; in Africa the numbers jump to nearly 33 per cent.

Other shocking statistics from the Pharmaceutical Security Institute’s 2011 situation report include:

  • A tenth of medicine sold worldwide is counterfeit and in some countries the figure could be as high as 70 per cent. (LEEM 2011)
  • For every R10 000 invested, criminals can make a profit of about R20 000 from heroin sales, but for the same investment in counterfeit medicine the returns are up to R4 million.

Precautions

One of the main sources of counterfeit medicine is so-called online pharmacies.

“These websites sell prescription medicine that you can buy without a prescription; they sell illegal or counterfeit products,” Sanofi medical director for SA Dr Rashem Mothilal says. “They’re run by illegal organisations and operate like a network, conceal their true identity and lie about their actual location.”

Dr Mothilal says in South Africa the South African Pharmacy Council only allows online sales of medicines provided it’s done under the supervision of a pharmacist with a retail pharmacy. “It’s highly illegal for someone to import medicine to South Africa without an import licence, which is what you’re doing when ordering medicine online. Sanofi warns South Africans in the strongest terms against using illegal suppliers.”

At fakemedicinesrealdanger.com, a website created by Sanofi, there’s the following advice to protect yourself against counterfeit medicine.

When getting prescription medicine:

  • Check the appearance of the medicine: the colour, texture, shape and packaging.
  • Make sure it tastes the same as the medicine you used before.
  • Inform your doctor or pharmacist if you have any doubts about the medicine, for instance if the packaging or colour looks different or suspect.
  • If a medicine is suddenly much cheaper than usual it could be a sign that it’s counterfeit.
  • If you suffer any serious or unusual side effects the medicine could be counterfeit – consult your doctor without delay.

Come and like us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter and pin along on Pinterest.

Find Love!

Men
Women