Counterfeit medicines –A threat to patient safety

One of the things I do from time to time is to scan various sites on news about counterfeit medicines. I came across one by the Partnership for Safe Medicines. It is based in the U.S.A. with the objective of working together to protect the safety of medicines. It is interesting looking at the cases listed on  their website from January 2016 till date.

There were several in 2015 as well but I would not go into these now. In January 2016 there was a reported case of counterfeit medicine associated death in the Los Angeles County. Someone with chronic pain had purchased a much cheaper alternative and died within a few hours of using the medicine.

The medication was found to contain toxic chemicals. In February a man based in Florida was apprehended for dealing in counterfeit medicines made up of Lipitor, Aciphex (an acid reflux treatment) and various medications for erectile dysfunction (ED) together with a host of herbal dietary supplements. Interestingly these herbal dietary supplements were found to contain prescription medicines.

The person was believed to have generated more than $1.1 million in sales from these counterfeit medicines. In a related incident another person was arrested for the importation and distribution of counterfeit medicines in the U.S.A.

The person’s company held itself out to be, among other things, a leading and long standing exporter of pharmaceutical and surgical products. The company had also claimed to be affiliated with many multinational pharmaceutical manufacturers. Within the same February another person was finally convicted for being part of a group importing counterfeit versions of prescription medications from China for resale in the U.S.A. Some of the products identified were Cialis, Viagra, Xanax. Counterfeiters usually target fast moving or very expensive products.

None of the medicines seized and tested was legitimate. Some of the medicines were sub potent, but most contained entirely different active ingredients from their legitimate , approved versions.

Some of the tricks used to outwit law enforcement was to use shipping labels that concealed the contents of their shipments and customs declarations falsely describing the contents as ‘gifts’ or ‘toys’. They also used multiple addresses in an effort to reduce the likelihood of seizures by U.S. Customs and Border Protection authorities.

There was an interesting one in March 2016. There is an upsurge in cosmetic surgery/treatment at all manner of centers across the world. One product that is becoming notorious in a number of these treatments is Botox injection.

There have been spate of injuries and deaths caused by counterfeit cosmetic injections especially Botox. Two persons were apprehended after such treatments on a client who ended up with pain and injuries.

The Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) of Australia is equally concerned about the spate of counterfeit medicines in the country. The TGA regulates the supply and import of medicines into Australia. A report attributed to the TGA in March 2016, is the interception of counterfeit Viagra laced with Chloramphenicol.

The TGA notes the growth of criminal gangs dealing in counterfeit medicines. In February the TGA issued an alert on a product called Excellence Losing Weight capsules. It warned the public that Excellence Losing Weight capsules posed a serious risk to their health and should not be taken. The TGA after testing the product found it to contain an undeclared substance, Sibutramine. Sibutramine was withdrawn from world markets in 2010 due to increased risk of cardiac events and stroke.

The TGA was working with the Australian Border Force (ABE) to help stop future shipments of

Excellence Losing Weight capsules into Australia. In earlier pieces on counterfeit medicines I had mentioned occurrences in the U.K., India, China and the African continent. It is clear that it is a global menace which requires continuous vigilance.

It is with this backdrop that I went to visit the Center for Pharmaceutical Advancement and

Training (CePAT), Accra. The CePAT has recently inaugurated the expansion of its facility.

As a health care provider you may have put in measures to insulate your cherished clients from the menace of counterfeit medicines but there is always the need to improve. I took special notice of a minilab which is able to do quick checks on products.

Looking at the global scourge of counterfeit medicines, it will be a useful tool to institutions providing health care to a large client base. CePAT is ready to provide training on its effective use and other quality assurance needs of institutions. It has always been my conviction that if a product does not work on a client it should never be related to issues of quality of the product. It is clear from the fore  that the outcome of counterfeit medicines could be fatal. Let us keep on working around the clock to safeguard our cherished clients from the menace of counterfeit/fake medicines.

  By Edward O.  Amporful

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