Dangers of counterfeit medicines

counterfeit medicines

Rather than making you feel better, some medicines can be harmful to your health. 

Regardless of your ailment or illness is it vital that you only purchase medicines from a regulated source.

Since 2008, Interpol (International Criminal Police Organisation) has dedicated significant resources in an attempt to stop the sale of counterfeit and illicit medical products online.

This international project is named Operation Pangea

Updated data compiled by Spain’s law enforcement agency, Civil Guard (Guardia Civil), reveals that since its launch, more than 105 million units, including pills, ampoules, envelopes and jars, have been effectively withdrawn and more than 3,000 arrests have been, thanks to Interpol’s Operation Pangea

International unity has proven to be an effective weapon to minimise the risks of exposure to a problem that is described by the World Health Organisation (WHO) as “making no exceptions.” 

The illegal practice of selling unregulated medicines was previously only associated with developing and low-income countries, but this has now become a worldwide issue - as a result of the internet.

One of the objectives of Operation Pangea's is to educate the public about the risks associated with purchasing medicines from unregulated websites.

Miguel A. Marcos, first sergeant of the Civil Guard, explains: "the profile of this type of consumer is very varied, unregulated medication shoppers come from all walks of life.”

The highest number of seizures under Pangea have been fake erectile dysfunction medicines. Other commonly faked products include antidepressants, anabolic steroids and medicines used to treat diabetes or cancer.

Despite the success of Operation Pangea -  the illegal trade of unregulated medications remains rife - particularly due to unsecure websites, advertising platforms or word of mouth  - often in gyms (primarily steroids). 

One thing all these drugs have in common - they should only be prescribed by a doctor and dispensed in a pharmacy. 

Unfortunately the black market meets the needs of people searching for medication that is likely not appropriate to be prescribed for them. Scenarios such as consumers looking for illegal substances or people searching for medication without related health issues. Also, some people choose to try and self medicate - in an attempt to avoid visiting the doctor - even if they need to. “It is an easier and anonymous route," concludes Marcos.

Interpol emphasise the importance of awareness raising campaigns surrounding the dangers of consuming these unregulated substances. According to the Spanish Agency for Medicine and Health Products (AEMPS), more than half of the drugs that circulate online are counterfeits "manufactured without guarantees from unauthorised, low-quality or toxic substances that can cause irreparable health damage.”

How can you identify an illegal website?

The AEMPS indicates that illegal websites usually contain the following features:

- They market unauthorised or prescription medications. Both authorised drugs in Spain, as well as those that require a prescription, can be found on the AEMPS website.

- They do not correspond to pharmacy offices authorised to sell online. The European Commission has designed a logo, with the phrase "Click here to check if this site is legal", which includes the country's flag as a guarantee seal of approval.

- They do not give details of who the owner or the responsible pharmacist is. They may not have a physical address for the office or any options to contact it. 

The AEMPS website periodically updates the list of establishments that can carry out online sales - so best to check here before going ahead and purchasing medications online. 

Author: Carlos B. Rodríguez

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