The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates 10 to 30 percent of all prescription drugs sold in developing countries are counterfeit. According to Motherboard.com, manufacturing counterfeit drugs is cheap and easy, provided the counterfeiters can obtain the ingredients. Pfizer, the maker of Viagra—the most counterfeited prescription drug in the world—filed its patent for the erectile dysfunction medicine with the United States Patent Office. The document, known as a micrograph, is available for viewing by the general public. If anyone is in doubt as to how to synthesize the compounds, the steps are listed on Wikipedia.
It’s what’s on the outside that counts: perfecting the look
Viagra is the best-selling prescription medicine in the world. No doubt, most of its success has to do with what it promises, it can deliver. But the Pfizer’s sales and marketing team stuck platinum when it devised a simple marketing strategy that transformed the drug into a household name. The phrase ‘little blue pill’ has become so ingrained in the public psyche that erectile dysfunction is now considered more of an inconvenience than a medical condition. Prescription drug counterfeiters understand that in order to fabricate marketable Viagra knock-offs, they have to perfect the distinctive shape and color of the drug. All other considerations, including ingredients, are secondary.
Duping the pharmacist
According to Motherboard, the next step for many small-time counterfeiters is to get their product to market. Many pass themselves off as drug wholesalers or drug middlemen. The pharmaceutical industry employs thousands of people, from manufacturing to sales. Competition is intense. Counterfeiters succeed by offering their product to pharmacists at prices that are just slightly lower than the going rate. Provided their product appears legitimate, as well as their bona fides, many pharmacists do not perform their due diligence when checking the veracity of the seller or the product.
Drug cartels get into the counterfeit drug game
Roger Bate is a visiting scholar at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, D.C. Bate has written extensively about counterfeit prescription drugs. According to Bate, Mexican drug cartels are flooding the market with bogus drugs. In the Motherboard article, Bate says these cartels switched their manufacturing operations from cocaine and heroin to legal drugs because the penalties for counterfeit prescriptions are minimal compared to illicit substances. He adds there is also a much bigger market for prescription drugs.
Unlike smaller counterfeit operations, cartels and other major counterfeit manufacturers create their own paper trail—invoices, shipping manifests, manufacture dates—to throw off the authorities. They also have the money to bribe regulators to look the other way.
A growing, lucrative, dangerous market
According to NOVA, in 2013, the value of the counterfeit drug market was estimated to be $75 billion. But the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy reports that because there is no regulation involved in the production of counterfeit drugs, people die from ingesting dangerous ingredients, including rat poison and furniture polish. According to Bate and Amir Attaran of the University of Ottawa, 100,000 people worldwide may die every year from substandard medications.
Online prescription drug markets: a free-for-all
The NABP investigated nearly 11,000 Internet drug outlets and found the following:
- 96 percent of the sites were out of compliance with U.S. pharmacy laws and standards
- 88 percent do not require a valid prescription
- 12 percent dispense controlled substances
- 91 percent appear to be affiliated with rogue networks of Internet drug outlets
If you use prescription drugs, only purchase them from reputable pharmacies. If you abuse prescription drugs, call 866-450-1557. We can help.