Counterfeit medicines on the Internet

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Every second drug offered on the Internet is counterfeit

The German Society for Internal Medicine (DGIM) warns of counterfeit medicines from the Internet. Around half of the medications offered on the Internet are counterfeits and, according to the experts at the 119th congress of the German Society for Internal Medicine in Wiesbaden, could “endanger life” in case of doubt. In addition, “around a fifth of the counterfeits contain substances that cause physical damage can lead, ”emphasized the DGIM.

In view of the extreme profit margin, from dietary supplements to sexual enhancers to cancer therapeutics and HIV medications, almost all preparations are also offered as counterfeits. The experts at DGIM therefore discussed intensively at the current congress how they can “protect patients, doctors, business and health care against the dangers of plagiarized drugs.” One of the skin problems is that the plagiarism is often hardly recognizable even for doctors .

Profit margin for counterfeit drugs higher than for illegal drugs DGIM explains in a current press release how lucrative the business with counterfeit drugs is using the example of illegal drugs such as heroin and cocaine. Here, people are willing to accept the risk of imprisonment for a profit margin that is around 25 times the capital employed. In the case of counterfeit drugs, however, the profit margin is significantly higher. For example, the counterfeit active ingredient sildenafil has brought in margins of more than 200 times, reports the DGIM, referring to the information from the Cologne customs investigation. Furthermore, the DGIM Volker Kerrutt from the Cologne Customs Investigation Office quotes in the press release with the statement: "While drug trafficking is being pursued worldwide, there are no comparable internationally agreed standards in the fight against illegal drug trafficking."

Counterfeit medicines pose a significant health risk However, the counterfeit preparations not only caused considerable economic damage and loss of income for the pharmaceutical industry, they also represent a "potential risk to human health", warned Professor Ulrich R. Fölsch, General Secretary of the DGIM in Kiel . The counterfeit medicines are mostly sold on the Internet. According to the DGIM, this means that around half of the medicines available on the Internet are counterfeit. According to the definition of the World Health Organization (WHO), counterfeits are understood to mean all preparations "whose identity or origin is deliberately incorrectly labeled".

Counterfeit AIDS drugs and cancer drugs Counterfeit drugs are offered on the Internet as potency drugs (e.g. Viagra), doping agents (e.g. anabolic steroids), sedatives and sleeping pills, concentration-promoting drugs, but also preparations that are used to treat serious illnesses, such as antibiotics and prescription drugs for AIDS and cancer therapy. Although there is a residual risk of counterfeiting even when buying from a pharmacy, the likelihood is significantly lower here and counterfeiting of preparations in pharmacies is rather the exception, the experts report.

Protection system against counterfeit medicines planned In order to guarantee complete safety for the benefit of the patient, the goal must be "to make medication safer and to make its origin traceable", explained Dr. Franz-Josef Wingen, spokesman for the corporate members of DGIM from Leverkusen. The EU is also aiming to introduce a security system here by 2017. Development is currently moving towards a system in which each pack bears a serial number encoded in a square data matrix code. However, it is not yet clear how end customers can recognize counterfeits.

In case of doubt, do not take the possibly counterfeit medicines. DGIM already advises against taking medications "in any case if the package insert is missing." In addition, "an unusual quality or color may indicate a counterfeit." In case of doubt, however, only an expert assessment. Anyone who purchases medication on the Internet should, however, be aware of the high level of counterfeiting and prefer to go to a pharmacy for preparations for the treatment of serious illnesses, especially since personal advice is also offered here. (fp)

Image: Sara Hegewald /

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