Counterfeit Drugs

The Counterfeit Drug Problem

Imagine taking a medication without knowing if it’s the proper strength, if it might be contaminated with foreign substances, or even if it contains any real medicine at all. Unfortunately, these worries are the reality for many people in the world. In the European Union, seizures of counterfeit drugs soared 118% in 2008. Thirty-four million counterfeit pills were confiscated over just two months, including vital medications for treating high cholesterol, osteoporosis, and high blood pressure.


Counterfeit Drugs in the U.S.

In the 1980’s, when the U.S. drug supply was open to foreign medicines, many women taking birth control were getting pregnant.  After many complaints and investigations, it was discovered that they were taking counterfeit pills of foreign origin. Members of Congress took action to help prevent this from happening again and passed a bill called the Prescription Drug Marketing Act.  This bill closed the U.S. drug supply system to help prevent foreign counterfeit drugs from getting in the hands of American patients who rely on safe medicines to live longer, healthier, and more productive lives.

Internet pharmacy sites

Americans have enjoyed the peace of mind of knowing their prescription medications are safe and effective. But a lot has changed since the 1980’s, including the introduction of the worldwide web–which has led to an increase in rogue internet pharmacy sites. Unfortunately, criminal networks around the world have become increasingly sophisticated, taking advantage of millions of patients around the globe by selling cheap counterfeit drugs on Internet sites, many of which masquerade as legitimate pharmacies and display the trusted Canadian flag. Rogue online pharmacy sites serve as a clearinghouse of unapproved and dangerous counterfeit drugs that unsuspecting consumers can buy, even without a valid prescription.  

Because it is so easy to create a website, there are currently thousands of these illegitimate sites. The National Association of Boards of Pharmacy has reviewed more than 10,000 of them with truly frightening results: Only 3 percent of the sites appear to be in compliance with pharmacy laws and practice standards.

Watch this video to learn more about the dangers of Internet pharmacy sites.

Safe Online Buying

A number of red flags should alert consumers that an online pharmacy site isn’t legitimate.

Consumers should avoid the following:

  • Sites that are located outside of the United States
  • Sites that don’t indicate any physical address
  • Sites that don’t have a license by the relevant state board of pharmacy
  • Sites without a licensed pharmacist to answer questions
  • Sites that do not require a prescription

Consumers who wish to purchase drugs over the Internet should look for websites that have the Verified Internet Pharmacy Practice Sites (VIPPS) seal. These sites are licensed pharmacies selling FDA-approved medications. The VIPPS accreditation program was started by the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy in response to the proliferation of illegitimate sites. To date, more than 30 online pharmacy sites are accredited under this program.

Click here to find a VIPPS-accredited Internet pharmacy.

While the VIPPS program is a major step forward in our fight against counterfeit drugs, the pharmaceutical industry is not willing to rest on its laurels. PhRMA members remain committed to rooting out criminal networks and putting a stop to the global counterfeit medicine trade. PhRMA and America’s pharmaceutical industry will continue to work with public and private partners in the fight against this growing epidemic to help protect the safety and integrity of our closed drug supply system.

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