Beware of counterfeit medicinesBy Rafael Castillo
Philippine Daily Inquirer
Filipinos, like many people around the world, are generally bargain hunters. Many times, we even buy things we don’t actually need just because we got them on sale. Sadly, the same attitude is prevalent when availing of supposedly “bargain prices” for the medicines we take.
Many are made to believe that these medicines are real but cheap because they’re manufactured in countries like India or Pakistan where the cost of medicines is only a fraction of the cost here. Little do they suspect they’re buying counterfeit medicines which may be no better than placebos or so-called dummy pills, because they’re totally ineffective, and possibly unsafe, too.
This situation may not be so life-threatening if one is taking a medicine for indications like skin whitening, or say, erectile dysfunction or impotence (although the frustration can also be disastrously damaging to one’s mental health), but if one were relying on the drug to protect him from a serious medical problem like a very high blood pressure, severe heart disease or a life-threatening infection, then the problem of counterfeit medicines can really be a serious issue.
Counterfeit medicines have been a recurrent problem in the Philippines and in other countries wherein patients and end-users are accustomed to buying their medicines even without a doctor’s prescription, and from sources which make them believe they’re getting the real medicine for a much-reduced price.
From the naked eye’s point of view, the look of the product including the packaging is like the real thing. But that’s where the similarity stops. The actual ingredient and the quality with which the product was manufactured are much different. “It’s hard for consumers to determine what’s real and what’s fake,” said Scott Davis of Pfizer, during a recent media forum on this problem.
According to the Philippine Food and Drug Administration (PhilFDA), antihypertensive and anticholesterol drugs, medicines for erectile dysfunction, steroid preparations and antibiotics are the commonly counterfeited drugs in the country that are being sold even in some licensed drugstores.
The peddlers of these counterfeit products are not only opportunists but ruthless criminals as well. It is likely that they have indirectly killed a lot of patients who thought they were taking real medicines. How many patients may have succumbed to a stroke or heart attack because of the ineffective drugs they have been taking to control their hypertension and high cholesterol? How many patients may have died from progression of their infection because of inadequate content of their antibiotic preparations? These patients have been deprived of the benefits and protection of the drugs they were prescribed. And how many patients may have developed serious adverse reactions due to the substandard ingredients used in manufacturing the fake drugs?
We have existing laws that sanction those who manufacture counterfeit drugs, but the penalties are not heavy enough to discourage these criminals. They’ll willingly pay the few hundred thousands of penalty and risk being put in prison for six months to a few years with the prospect of earning hundreds of millions with several container vans of counterfeit medicines manufactured in other countries and brought here for distribution. The sad part of it all is that according to a PhilFDA representative, no one has ever been convicted in the country so far because of counterfeit medicines. It would be no wonder if these counterfeit criminals would consider countries like the Philippines a haven for them.
Public info campaign
There must be a united front against counterfeit medicines. There must be a public information campaign to draw awareness to the problem and doctors must educate their patients about the hazards of being deceived by those who tell them they can supply their essential medicines at a much lower cost.
The public should also be warned about unscrupulous Internet sources, dubbed as the counterfeit drugs’ “transit network.” They usually have attractively designed websites with authoritative looking professionals pretending to be doctors, advertising certain products.
Cases of suspicious counterfeit sources must be reported to the PhilFDA which must make sure its lack of manpower is not an obstacle that prevents it from acting promptly to investigate alongside other government agencies with police powers these illegal sources.
Our legislators should also review our laws against counterfeit medicines and give them more teeth that can send shivering signals to those who may consider peddling counterfeit medicines as a lucrative source of business with a modest risk of penalty.
When patients die from their serious medical condition, it’s bad enough but when they die because they failed to be protected by the medicines they were supposed to take, there’s no reason good enough in a sane world to explain it.
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