Medication Counterfeiting: Origins and Prescriber Responsibilities

Author: Jay Joshi

You know, as healthcare providers, we all want to help our patients and we trust that the system is honest. The problem is that the system is not always honest, and we see both counterfeit medical delivery as well as counterfeit medications. The problem is much larger than just the few cases that you’ll see in the media. The problem really is up to 10% of all pharmaceuticals that are sold in America are of counterfeit origin. That means one out of 10 prescription or one out of 10 pills is not going to be the real thing. And we don’t know which products are counterfeit, so as a physician, as a healthcare provider, when you’re prescribing a medication, you have no clue if that medication is genuine or if it’s counterfeit. Counterfeit medications can be counterfeit-branded medications, but they can be counterfeit generic medications as well, so physicians need to know that just because they’re prescribing a brand name, it may not be the real thing--and just because they’re prescribing a generic, it may not be an actual copy of the authentic drug. So when patients say, “Doctor, I’ve been stable on this medication for years and I got my refill from the pharmacy, and the new one doesn’t work,” they need to know that that new medication may not have the active ingredient, it may have less of the active ingredient, it may have fillers that prevent proper absorption, it may have fillers that cause side effects.

Now, no solution is going to be 100% foolproof, but there are a lot of solutions that can dramatically decrease the amount of counterfeiting by increasing the authentication of the product, also by increasing the level of tracking and tracing of those authentic products. If you can secure the supply chain, it will dramatically reduce counterfeiting and more importantly, it will dramatically reduce our uncertainty about those products. The onus lies with the manufacturer to authenticate their product from the beginning, and then track that throughout the supply chain. And until we as a community start demanding that manufacturers prove that their brands are real, which you’d think they would do, because it increases the bottom line, we’re going to have patients that are going to be injured and unfortunately, that liability then falls on the practitioner.

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