Imagine you have just been diagnosed with a serious illness. You go to the doctor and he gives you a prescription to treat your condition. The prescription is very expensive, so you decide to do a little shopping around online. You quickly find a cheap option on an online pharmacy. You order from the pharmacy and start taking the medicine but you seem to only be getting worse. You start to wonder what could be the matter? More than likely you are one of the 19 million Americans who has been a victim of counterfeit prescription drugs. It is especially important to beware if a pharmacy is legitimate because large law firms say it is very hard to prosecute these illegal retailers.

What are counterfeit prescription drugs?

The FBI describes counterfeit prescription drugs as: fake medicines not produced to the pharmacological specifications of the drugs they claim to be. What is specifically meant by this is the drugs either:
1. Do not contain either any or the right amount of the active ingredient you need
2. Contain ingredients that shouldn’t be included or other harmful ingredients

Counterfeit prescription drug dangers:

1. Overdose from false dosage listings
2. Allergic reaction to ingredients not listed
3. Unknown side effects
4. Health conditions worsening due to not being properly treated due to not enough of the active ingredient listed

How likely is it that you can purchase counterfeit prescription drugs in America?

There is little risk for purchasing counterfeit drugs from local pharmacies in America thanks to regulation agencies such as the FDA. But with the increase of the popularity online pharmacies due to them being able to undercut prices, many unregulated pharmacies are tricking consumers into purchasing from them. In fact only 4% of all online pharmacies are actually legal. Research from the Partnership for Safe Medicines (PSM) shows that as many 19 million Americans purchase from pharmacies outside the U.S. or pharmacies without licenses.

How to know When an online Pharmacy is legitimate

For your safety if you do plan on purchasing from an online pharmacy you should always check for a seal from the Verified Internet Pharmacy Practice Site (VIPPS). Outside of checking for the VIPPS seal of approval the FDA warns consumers to avoid using online pharmacies which, do not have a licensed pharmacist available, offer prices that are most likely not realistic, offer drugs that require a prescription without asking for a prescription, or are located outside of the US.

Most common types of counterfeit prescription drugs:

The Partnership for Safe Medicines list these as the most common occurrences of counterfeit medication:

1. Cardiovascular Medications: These drugs are often very expensive so it is no surprise that these drugs are commonly counterfeited
2. Cancer Drugs: In 2012 there was a scandal where doctor’s offices purchased the cancer drug Avastin from a foreign pharmacy and the drugs actually turned out to be just acetone and water. As many as 50 doctor’s offices in 19 states were affected by this.
3. Antibiotics: Getting counterfeit antibiotics is very dangerous because it allows your infection to spread instead of killing harmful bacteria
4. Painkillers and Weight Loss Medication: These are becoming ever more present in the US with so many fake painkillers containing Fentanyl.
5. Psychiatric Medications: Examples such as Adderall and Xanax are extremely common for fake online pharmacies to target.
6.Treatments for Chronic Illnesses Like HIV and Alzheimers: Everyone has probably heard of Martin Shrekli(link) the man made famous for raising the price of a common HIV medication. As a result of these being drugs so expensive they are also commonly counterfeited.