Beware of Counterfeit Prescription Drugs

Friday, 05 Oct 2012 07:43 AM

 

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Federal regulators have recently shut down scores of online pharmacies that were allegedly selling fake prescription drugs. But in the wake of the crackdown it is still risky to buy medications from websites, warns a top doctor.
“These are scary times when it comes to buying drugs in the U.S.,” says Dr. Chauncey Crandall, a renowned cardiologist who says he has seen serious health problems caused by drugs purchased online or abroad.
“I’ve seen patients with heart failure respond poorly and it turned out they were taking fake drugs or medicines reformulated with the wrong amount of ingredients,” he says. “People with life-threatening illnesses have to take the right medications, or they can get worse and even die.”
Dr. Crandall, director of Cardiovascular Preventative Medicine at the Palm Beach Cardiovascular Clinic in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., lauded the Food and Drug Administration’s enforcement action, saying illegal online drug operations pose a serious threat.

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“People think it’s poor people who buy these online drugs, but they are bought by people all across the economic spectrum. Also, some of my very wealthy patients travel internationally, and they’ll pick up their drugs while they are doing it. They think it’s not a big deal; they just want to save a few bucks, but this can also be dangerous,” he said.
The FDA took action against more than 4,100 Internet pharmacies worldwide, filing criminal and civil charges, shutting down websites, and seizing illegal medications.
The effort, which involved law enforcement, customs, and regulatory authorities from 100 countries, came as the federal regulators tightened their online efforts with the launching of BeSafeRX, a new national initiative that seeks to teach consumers how to protect themselves. In the campaign, the FDA urges consumers to steer clear of online pharmacies that offer drugs without prescriptions, deep discounts, or medications at “too-good-to-be-true” prices.
The enforcement effort comes as drug counterfeiters have grown more and more bold. Last year the FDA warned doctors around the country that they may have bought fake Avastin, a cancer medicine. In another case, Internet shoppers bought fake versions of Adderall, a popular medication for attention deficient hyperactivity disorder.
But these illegally sold drugs are not the only problem, says Dr. Crandall. He also recommends that his patients be wary of generic drugs. Generics now make up 80 percent of the prescription drugs sold in the U.S. and are widely praised as a low-cost option. But Dr. Crandall warns that their manufacture is often outsourced to developing countries that do not have the same strict U.S. standards. He tells his patients to go with brand-name versions.
“You never know where the generic drugs come from. They could be made in India one year, Pakistan the next. Formulas can be changed or ingredients can be added. Because of this, a drug that has worked for years becomes suddenly ineffective or the patient develops an adverse reaction to it,” he says.


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