by Kimberly Allen, RN
Today one of the biggest reasons health care costs are so high is the cost of medications – that is legitimate medications. Many people, especially the elderly, are forced to choose medications or food. It’s choices like this that has pushed record numbers of people to seek out cheaper medications, usually online. This has caused the sale of counterfeit medications, most of which can be found on line, to increase to where it is now an approximately $80 billion industry. The problem is a good percentage of online pharmacies are selling counterfeit medications which could actually be more dangerous than if you didn’t take any medication because you can’t afford it. In fact, some experts believe there are over 100,000 deaths every year that are related to counterfeit medications.
The rise of counterfeit medications has become so dangerous that the US FDA along with ninety nine other national and international agencies including INTERPOL continued to work together in “Operation Pangea IV” during their 6th annual International Internet Week of Action. During the operation the group seized over $41 million in illegal medications and shut down over 1,600 websites. The US FDA has said they used federal warrants to seize the domain names of websites as well as post messages to the people visiting those websites telling them there are severe penalties for people that traffic in counterfeit medications. They also provide the link to a website that provides information on the dangers of fake online pharmacies, www.fda.gov/BeSafeRx. Last year during the 5th annual International Internet Week of Action in Operation Pangea V investigators seized $10.5 million in illegal medications and shut down over 18,000 websites.
During the investigation undercover IDs were used by investigators to purchase medications online. The medications they received were counterfeit and not approved by the FDA. These counterfeit medications arrived with out any instructions about use or potential side effects as well as being in strengths and quantities that aren’t even available in the US. Many also had different ingredients than what is in the legitimate medication.
There are many counterfeit medications being sold online, but, Viagra is by far the most common. There are a couple of reasons for this including embarrassment. many men don’t want to discuss their problem with their Dr or be seen purchasing it at the local pharmacy so purchasing online eliminates those problems by allowing them to order from the privacy of their home where it is also delivered discreetly packaged. However, the big reason is money. Pfizer rakes in over $1 billion in Viagra sales alone every year. One legitimate Viagra tablet costs $15, it can be bought for as little as $1 a tablet online. That’s a huge difference and very tempting for someone living on a tight budget. However, Viagra is not the only counterfeit medication out there. Authorities have seized numerous other counterfeit medications ranging from the high blood pressure medication Norvasc to Celebrex, the anti arthritic medication to the antibiotic Zithromax. Pfizer also isn’t the only drug manufacturer fighting off counterfeiters, there are several others including Roche. Certain cancer medications made by Roche including Avastin are being counterfeited.
Most people that order these medications online aren’t trying to cheat the system they’re only trying to make ends meet. There are legitimate online pharmacies that can provide legitimate legally approved medications for a lower cost, but you need to research them first. In January a study done by the National Association Of Boards which provides accreditation to online pharmacies found that out of 10,275 online pharmacies they examined only 257 of them appeared to be legitimate. If you’re looking for an online pharmacy that is legitimate go to www.fda.gov/BeSafeRx to see if the online pharmacy you’re considering is licensed in your state/ There is also a program through the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy that monitors online pharmacies to ensure they meet both state and national regulations. Go to vipps.nabp.net to find those pharmacies.