When you go to the doctor and get a prescription, the last thing that is probably on your mind is that the drug you get from the pharmacy may be a counterfeit. But research shows that this is a growing problem not only in our country but around the world. But now the problem seems to have gotten even more serious: while for years counterfeiters targeted drugs such as Viagra, they have now moved into much more serious and profitable cancer drugs.
Just last year, Avastin, which is used in the treatment of various types of cancer, was counterfeited and distributed through Canada Drugs. The counterfeit product contained starch, salt, and cleaning solvents, and none of the active ingredients that the real drug contains.
In 2011, cancer drugs were found to be the 8th most commonly counterfeited drug, and it is no mystery why it is becoming so popular. While other drugs that have been commonly counterfeited in the past might go for $10 to $20 a tablet, cancer drugs such as Avastin are sold for $2400 a vial.
These pills are most commonly manufactured in China where there is weak regulation. Thousands of factories have popped up, and in one police raid, over 23 million tablets of various counterfeited drugs were found. The contents of these pills vary: some contain no amount of the active ingredient but contain harmless ingredients, while others may contain some proportion of the ingredient but also may contain harmful substances.
The biggest problem with counterfeit drugs seems to be in poor and developing countries, where some estimates claim that up to one-half of all medications used to treat deadly diseases have been fakes. Over 100,000 people die each year from substandard and counterfeit medications for cancer, heart disease, and infectious diseases.
Unfortunately, very little progress is being made in this arena. Experts say that an international tack must be taken, and if there is any hope in securing a safe drug supply, then any course of action must be backed by a global treaty.
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