The Hidden Dangers of Counterfeit Medicines: Facts & Figures You Might Be Shocked To Know

Hidden Dangers of Counterfeit Medicines
18 Apr 2024
8 mins
Table Of Content
The Hidden Dangers of Counterfeit Medicines: Facts & Figures You Might Be Shocked To Know

    In this era, where the replication of designer bags or watches is easily possible, medicine is no longer an exception. The threat of fake medicine is a global crisis, not just a local issue. It's not just about copying patents, it's about endangering lives. This blog, delving deep into the dark side of fake medications, underscores its risks, and is a must-read for every consumer out there.


    How Common Are Counterfeit Medicines?


    WHO claims that up to 10% counterfeit medicines on a global scale while some developing countries have it soaring over 50% as established. 

    1. Impact on Public Health Programs: Counterfeit medicines are a threat to public health since they can derail entire health campaigns, resulting in a loss of resources that are used to purchase too many medicinal products that are ineffective or harmful.

    Education in rural areas is the most vulnerable sector to cutbacks. For example, programs targeting diseases like malaria and tuberculosis are useful in killing the disease, but they might also be stuck in the way of funding.

    2. Involvement of Organized Crime: The Illegal production and the distribution of fake drugs are oftentimes controlled by highly-organised criminal networks. It is also difficulty to defined because this illegal trade goes beyond health issue and is a serious security challenge at global level.

    3. Difficulty in Regulation and Enforcement: Drug supply chains are interconnected worldwide, making any individual nation’s law regulating and enforcing against fake drugs a herculean task. The problem is that these are coupled with multiple regulatory frameworks and the variation in enforcement capabilities from one country to another.

    4. Advancements in Technology Used by Counterfeiters: With the magic of modern technology, genuine pharmaceutical companies develop new methods to authenticate their products and to outsmart counterfeiters which also improvise with advanced technologies and make convincing fake products. This comprise of the exceptional quality, uniform packaging and other printing materials that resemble original products such that it is difficult to differentiate between fake and genuine.

    5. Impact on Trust in Healthcare Systems: A high number of fake medicines may cause a loss of public trust as well as healthcare systems and providers in the public can be attributed to them. When individuals get ineffective medical treatment, it not only deteriorates their health but it too, destroys their trust in political bodies and professionals that are affiliated to medical sector.


    Top 7 Risks Of Taking Counterfeit Medicines


    Taking fake medicines is an approximation that can cause treatment failure.

    1. Allergic Reactions: Fake drugs can be mislabeled containing an unapproved or unacceptable excipient (a supplementary substance not active but used as a carrier for the active ingredient). This can cause allergic reactions in patients when not expected. These allergies may be moderate or severe from a harmless rash to a dangerous anaphylaxis.

    2. Interference with Other Medications: Since the fake medicines can potentially cause adverse reactions with the other genuine drugs an individual might be taking, it is hard to predict the outcome of consuming such dubious medicines. These exposures bear great risks of these drugs no longer being effective or yawning side effects. Such scenarios have worsened the complexity of existing treatment plan.


    3. Lack of Efficacy: If the subject is taking counterfeit drugs with no or very few of the ingredients that have medicinal value, then there is no chance that cure will happen. Such diseases like diabetes, hypertension, or bacterial infections will inherently take their nightmarish path because they will no longer be treated. There is also the option of having a treatment that is not as effective as it should be which can cause various complications, worsen health and even result in death, provided the critical condition is not treated.

     4. Dangerous Ingredients: Fake drugs are mainly affected by low-cost and easily accessible hazardous substances used by counterfeiters either as substitutes or fillers. Making them falsified.

     For example, rat poison is very poisonous, causing heavy toxic reactions; floor wax isn't digestible and can lead to gastritits or acute abdominal perforation; and heavy metals like lead or mercury, which can cause organ failure leading to irreversible damage. Presence of such components can lead to an instant death or equally dangerous consequences to a patient who had not any idea of the ingredients.

     5. Wrong Dosages: The dosage of active ingredients with precision is of paramount importance for safety and effectiveness of any medication. Falsified medicines, in particular, may behave in erratic manner displaying varying and unpredictable levels of active elements.

     The intake of high doses might transform into consequential toxicity, and even cause in the end, a lethal overdose. On the other hand, short periods of insufficient amounts of drugs may not only be ineffective but also develop resistance by themselves, mainly with antibiotics and antivirals. Thus infections become refractory to existing treatment options and subsequently ignite many medical complications.

     6. Antibiotic Resistance: The use of adulterated antibiotics that contain below-therapeutic levels of active ingredients is the most deadly because selected survivors of resistant strains of bacteria have a lovely platform to reproduce and survive.

     It also results in the ineffectiveness of the treatment, which leads to prolonged and escalated infections. Moreover, it is a contributing factor to the public health crisis of antibiotic resistance. This worldwide problem reduces the treatment of bacterial diseases, makes it more difficult and expensive, and puts the existing antibiotics in danger.


    7. Psychological Impact: With the knowledge that they have been taking fake remedies, low patient morale and thinking are the main causes of their mental distress in chronic diseases. The approach may make matters worse as it can then leads to deteriorating their wellness condition, making the recovery complicated which in the end post-treatment life will be poorer.


    The Global Scale of The ‘Fake Drug’ Problem


    • Developing Nations: In many developing countries, we have the absence of a strong regulatory regime and insufficient resources for enforcement leading to an increased rate of counterfeit medications in these places. As per the estimation, almost more than 30% of the drugs that are available in the markets of third-world countries are counterfeit. The spread of fakes medications is rapid in areas with minimal or no oversight by regulators and low public education. The damage is immense, with fake essential drugs such as antimalarials and antibiotics being a reality on the ground, thereby leading to unsuccessful treatments and deaths.


    • Developed Nations: Surprisingly, advanced countries are also victims of the problem of fake drugs with strong control systems in place. It is just a small fraction of real medicines in the regions that have counterfeit drugs. These commonly are accessed through illegal markets online or unlawful distribution avenues. The fact that even a slight amount of counterfeited drugs pose a problem to the high levels of safety and efficacy standards commonly employed in these health systems should be worrisome.
    • Online Pharmacies: The increase in the number of online drug pharmacies has become one of the major reasons for the outbreak of counterfeit drugs. The WHO estimates that among medicines sold through the internet globally, around 50% might be counterfeit. Some buyers love architecture as they find it easy and steadfast; however, they may end up with counterfeit products despite their efforts.


    • Economic Impact: The economic pressure arising from the development of fake drugs is also significant. Through a global market for the sale of fake medication, the illicit income is estimated to be about $200 billion. Consequently, apart from bearing the consequence of the low quality of the products, the pharmaceutical sector also has to bear the cost of treating complications coming from lower quality or potentially toxic fake drugs as an extra cost the health system has to bear.


    The Big Picture 


    Fake medicines apart from being public health threat inflict a blow also on the country's economic stability. The financial strain is twofold: there is an expensive financial burden for health systems when complex conditions resulted from poor drugs efficacy, the problem is that they are left without the capacity for other parts. At the same time, legitimate drug manufacturers are bombarded with the losses of revenues in billions of dollars each year, owing to the growing distribution of fake drugs. This feature just confirms the vitality.

    Written by
    Dr. VijayalakshmiMedical Content Writer
    AboutDr. Vijayalakshmi is a Medical Content Writer at MrMed. She completed her Bachelor of Dentistry (BDS) from Sri Ramakrishna Dental College, Coimbatore, in 2022, where she expertise in dental and clinical research. During her internship, she has also worked on various research projects and presented scientific papers in national UG seminars. Post her UG, she has upskilled in pharmacovigilance regulations and clinical trial methodology through certification courses. She is proficient in researching, writing, editing, and proofreading medical content and blogs.
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