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Pets Large & Small

Counterfeit medications

Dr. Kimberly Brokaw, DVM
Walkersville Vet Clinic

(7/2017) Most people are aware of counterfeit handbags, watches, and clothes. Usually it's someone selling products on the street and the price is very cheap. The product looks like it's real so you buy it. While you were purchasing it, in the back of your head, you thought this price is too good, I wonder if it's a knock-off. Then two weeks later the buckles have fallen off, the stitching's come loose and you realize your suspicions were correct and that it was just a cheap knock-off. Luckily in this situation, other than loosing a few bucks, no one was actually harmed.

Counterfeit medications have been making there way into commerce and in these situations people and animals have been harmed. The medication may have the wrong medicine, no active medicine, or be contaminated. If the right medicine is present it may be in the wrong dose. The FDA (Food and Drug Administration) and DEA (Drug Enforcement Agency) work together with other agencies to try and prevent counterfeit medications from entering the US market. However they aren't successful and owners need to be aware when buying medications that they should be on the alert for receiving potentially counterfeit medications.

Back in 2011 the FDA investigated an online pharmacy that sold over $1.4 million worth of counterfeit medications and controlled substances. Part of the company operated out of Kansas and Ohio, so while most people know to be suspicious of foreign cheap online pharmacies, this one wouldn't necessarily have raised suspicion. In addition to selling counterfeit medications, one of the charges brought against the owner of the online pharmacy was dispensing prescription drugs without a valid prescription from a licensed practitioner. So if you go to purchase your dog's heartworm medication (a prescription product) and the online pharmacy doesn't require a prescription from your veterinarian, you should be aware that you may be purchasing counterfeit medication.

Even health care providers aren't immune to purchasing counterfeit medications. In 2012 and 2013 the FDA released a letter to several medical practices that had purchased cancer medications from unapproved pharmacies where at least two of the purchased medications had been identified as counterfeit. Just last year the FDA sent out another advisory that more counterfeit cancer medications had been detected. For that reason our clinic only purchases medications from approved medication distributors.

The National Association of Boards of Pharmacy is a nonprofit that protects public health by promoting safe pharmacy practices. They review and certify pharmacies to make sure that they are in compliance with US pharmacy laws and practice standards, i.e. not selling counterfeit medications. They reviewed nearly 11,500 internet drug outlets and found that 96% were not compliant with pharmacy laws. The NABP website has a list of not recommended internet drug outlets.

A few months ago one of our pharmaceutical manufacturers sent us a flyer. On the flyer they had a picture of a very popular flea product that they sold and a picture of the counterfeit version right next to it. Typed on the flyer was a note that they do not sell their product to online pharmacies and to be aware of counterfeits. However as I'm writing this article, a quick google search showed that I could purchase what at least appeared to be the real product, at several online pharmacies that are popular with my clients. In fact, in the past, I have even told clients that they should shop online and see if they could find the product cheaper and have recommended those online pharmacies. While I have no way of knowing if the flea product they are selling is in fact not counterfeit, I do know that they did not acquire it from the product manufacturer. As we are in the middle of flea season, I had already had clients telling me that their flea product wasn't working. In the past I had always assumed that was because the fleas had developed resistance to the various products. Now I'm wondering if it's actually that the medication was counterfeit and didn't have any active ingredient in it and that's why the medication didn't work.

Being able to identify counterfeit medications is a challenge. I'm glad that the FDA and DEA try to identify and stop the influx of potentially dangerous medications into the US. However, consumers also need to be aware of the potential to purchase counterfeit medications and take steps to protect themselves and their pets. If you are going to purchase your medications online, you should only purchase them from a NABP approved pharmacy.

Read other articles by Dr. Kim Brokaw