Counterfeit drugs, including fake, substandard, adulterated or falsely labeled (misbranded) medicines, have become a real and growing threat to global health. Increasingly sophisticated counterfeiting rings, often involving organized crime, are slipping their fakes into the legitimate drug supply of countries around the world. The problem is especially serious in developing countries, where hundreds of thousands die from ineffective medicines, and millions more from the drug-resistant strains of pathogens such as malaria, HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis that have been promoted by counterfeits suboptimal dosing of antibiotics and anti-viral agents.
Even the U.S. drug supply, among the most secure in the world, is increasingly threatened by counterfeit or substandard drugs. The last few years have seen a rising number of cases of counterfeits turning up in neighborhood pharmacies, including fake versions of some of the nation s most popular drugs. The main point of entry for the counterfeits has been the gray market, a loose and complex network of drug diverters and secondary wholesalers that makes it possible for distributors to introduce diverted and sometimes counterfeit drugs into the legitimate drug supply chain. The risk of counterfeits is even greater with drugs that are unlawfully imported or bought from unregulated online sites.
This peer-reviewed paper details the threat of counterfeit drugs, how authorities are trying to stop the fakes, and what consumers can do to protect themselves.
Please also see our 2009 updated version of this publication.