Counterfeit Medications

A counterfeit medication or drug is defined as a pharmaceutical product that is produced and sold with the intention to deceive the consumer about the origin, authenticity or efficacy of the product.

This has the potential to be dangerous for consumers as the formulation may contain unusual ingredients or quantities of the ingredients, which can affect the effect of the medication in the body. Additionally, mislabeling of the pharmaceutical goods may also cause problems.

Blur medicine of danger eating counterfeit drugs, Image Copyright: Theerapakorn / Shutterstock
Blur medicine of danger eating counterfeit drugs, Image Copyright: Theerapakorn / Shutterstock

Issues with Counterfeit Medications

There are several different errors that may be intentional or accidental that may cause a medication to be classified as counterfeit. These include:

  • Inappropriate dose of active ingredient
  • Absence of active ingredient
  • Altered absorption of the drug by the body
  • Presence of additional ingredients
  • Inaccurate or false packaging or labels
Combatting the Counterfeit Drug Trade: Ashifi Gogo at TEDxBoston

Any of these areas has the potential to harm a patient’s health and is not acceptable in the process of genuine drugs, which are subject to rigorous regulation requirements. Many of these drugs may look very similar to genuine medications and patients may unknowingly purchase and use counterfeit drugs and be subjected to the effects.

Counterfeit Drugs and Online Pharmacy

The problem of counterfeit medications is a rising issue with the introduction and growth of online pharmacies. The medicines bought online through an online pharmacy are more likely to be counterfeit than those bought in a physical pharmacy, particularly when the pharmacy is based in another country outside of developed or western nations.

For this reason, requirements for online pharmacies have been put in place for countries such as the United States and the United Kingdom so that the physical base of the online pharmacy must be based in the same country. This is helping to reduce rates of counterfeit medications, but there is still some way to go.

Online pharmacies offer a beneficial service for individuals to access medications, often at a lower price and are more accessible for patients in remote areas. However, it is important that patients check that the pharmacy they use is registered and able to legally sell medications before purchasing online.

Response of the Pharmaceutical Industry

Counterfeit medications are also a significant problem for pharmaceutical industries that profit from the sale of genuine medications. It is in their interest, and in the interest of the public health, to reduce the rates of counterfeit medications and ensure that the public has access to medications that have been tested for safety and efficacy.

As a result, pharmaceutical manufacturers and distributors have been investing into certain measures to reduce the impact of counterfeit medications. This includes creating technologies to trace and authenticate medications as a way to reduce the impact and feasibility of counterfeit drugs.

Generic Medication vs. Counterfeit Medication

It is important to establish that generic medications that offer original brand medications at a lower cost are not counterfeit or fake medications. However, generic medications may sometimes be involved in enforcement measure to reduce the counterfeiting of drugs.

Generic medications undergo vigorous testing to ensure the quality of the medication is very close to equal to the original drug formulation and have the same effects on patients. These medications must undergo quality control testing in order to be approved for public use and the labeling must be accurate, similar to the requirements for new drugs entering the market.

Counterfeit medications are a significant threat to human health and safety, as they may not be adequately tested for safety and efficacy, and may have the potential to cause harm to patients. Mislabeling can also cause patient errors or misunderstandings and is another potential for patient harm.


Further Reading

Last Updated: Jun 20, 2019

Yolanda Smith

Written by

Yolanda Smith

Yolanda graduated with a Bachelor of Pharmacy at the University of South Australia and has experience working in both Australia and Italy. She is passionate about how medicine, diet and lifestyle affect our health and enjoys helping people understand this. In her spare time she loves to explore the world and learn about new cultures and languages.


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