Phoney drugs, expensive mistakes that claim lives

Counterfeit medications are a worldwide problem.

Picture this.

A patient was treated with injections for anaemia, after a liver transplant. However, after eight weeks of injections, the patient was still not responding to treatment. The doctors later discovered that the medicine the patient used was counterfeit.

In another case, in February 2012 in the United States of America, a fake form of a cancer-fighting drug was circulating in the market. The counterfeiters had added salt and starch to the medicine. It had no active ingredient yet it had been used by cancer patients with no promising results.

After further investigations, the drug regulator in the US (FDA) found out that doctors had purchased the counterfeit cancer drug from unapproved suppliers, at prices below the going price.

Closer home, The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime estimates that a third of malaria medicines used in East Asia and sub-Saharan Africa are fraudulent.The World Health Organization  further estimates that up to 1 per cent of medicines available in the developed world are likely to be fraudulent. This figure rises to 10 per cent in various developing countries.

There is confusion in establishing the difference between generic and original drugs.

So, how do these medicines differ?

Generic drugs are copies of brand-name drugs that have exactly the same dosage, intended use, effects, side effects, route of administration, risks, safety, and strength as the original drug

Do generic drugs work the same way as original drugs?

Clinical Pharmacist Orangi Gavin notes that they do. “They contain the same active ingredient and provides same clinical benefit,” Dr Orangi said.

Another difference between these two types of drugs is that generic drugs cost less than their brand names counterparts. This can be attributed to the pharma laws that stipulate that the original drugs have had repeat animal and human trials that were done to demonstrate safety and effectiveness.

According to the Food and Drug Administration in the United States, a period of marketing exclusivity is given to brand-name drugs that prohibits the approval of generic drugs. Once these patents and marketing exclusivities expire, generic drugs can be manufactured.

Are there benefits of the generic drugs?

The availability of generics make government or household spend less on medicines without loss of quality or safety. Falsified medicines are fake medicines that are designed to mimic real medicines

How can the problem of counterfeit drugs be eliminated ?

A 2014 research paper by Dr Erwin A. Blackstone and colleagues from Temple University in Philadelphia titled, ‘The Health and Economic Effects of Counterfeit Drugs,’ offers the following recommendations;

• Increase public awareness, especially concerning Internet pharmacies
• Improve management of supply chain
• Apply stiffer fines and jail sentences for convicted sellers of counterfeit drugs
• Increase due diligence by physicians when purchasing drugs and stiffer penalties for those who knowingly provide counterfeit drugs to their patients
• Improve controls of secondary drug markets
• Improve cooperation with foreign governments regarding counterfeiting drugs
• Improve quality control by drug manufacturers to avoid drug shortages
• Encourage more voluntary cooperation from companies along the Internet chain, such as credit card companies, domain registrars, Internet service providers, and couriers
• Improve use of technology to track and trace counterfeiting drugs
• Sell drug supplies only to licensed manufacturers
• Construct Internet search algorithms so that legitimate online pharmacies appear first


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