Fake Drugs Can Be Fatal


“Fake News” can be misleading. “Fake Drugs” can be fatal.

That’s the take-home message of Carrie Luther, mother of Tosh Ackerman, who died after taking a fake Xanax pill filled with Fentanyl. Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that is approximately 100 times stronger than morphine. It is highly addictive and very dangerous since it can cause respiratory arrest. It is frequently added to counterfeit drugs because it is inexpensive to manufacture and leads to addiction – thereby encouraging more use of the counterfeit drug.

Fentanyl is so dangerous that it is only permitted to be used in hospitals in locations where monitoring of respirations and emergency resuscitation equipment is readily available – like the emergency room or operating room. I know from a personal kidney stone experience that I could receive Fentanyl in the E.R. when I came in but I couldn’t receive it on the hospital floor after I was admitted.

According to Sumathi Reddy, writing in The Wall Street Journal, the problem is online sales of pharmaceuticals. Reddy says the issue of counterfeit prescription medications like Xanax is a growing problem, attracting the attention of law enforcement organizations and pharmaceutical companies like Pfizer, which manufactures Xanax.

In June the U.S. Food and Drug Administration convened a meeting around the problem of illegal opioids sold online and through social media. “Millenials and those younger rely heavily on social media, “ says Alex Khu, assistant director of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Global Trade Investigations division. “Criminal organizations recognize that trend and we’re starting to see advertisement and sales of counterfeit or substandard prescription drugs on social media sites.”

“The biggest danger is that these sites do not require a medical examination or a prescription, and the sites do not impose limitations on how much or how often the consumer purchases drugs,” Khu says.

The National Association of Boards of Pharmacy reviewed nearly 12,000 internet drug outlets selling prescription medications to U.S. patients. Of these, about 95% were found noncompliant with state and federal laws and NABP standards, according to a report published in September, which highlights the role social media sites play.

Pfizer manufactures Xanax, an antianxiety drug also known as alprazolam. Since its patent has expired other companies are free to make and sell the same drug in generic form. Over the past three years Pfizer has reported more than 10,000 Facebook accounts or profiles selling counterfeit Pfizer medications to the social media company. They’ve also referred more than 1,000 Instagram accounts selling counterfeit Pfizer products over the past six months to Facebook, the parent company of Instagram.

Counterfeit Xanax and other drugs are indistinguishable to the naked eye from the real thing. Only with magnification and training can one distinguish the difference.

How big is this problem?

Thomas Kubic, president and CEO of the Pharmaceutical Security Institute, a Virginia –based nonprofit, says there are roughly 15,000 to 17,000 annual cases of counterfeit drugs reported globally to his organization from its members, who include security directors from 33 pharmaceutical companies. Obviously this represents only the tip of the iceberg.

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