Counterfeit medications a growing problem in Canada, warns new report
Counterfeit drugs are finding their way not only into street drugs, but into medications purchased online or even from neighbourhood pharmacies in Canada, warns a new report.
The paper, released Thursday by the Fraser Institute think-tank, says any type of drug can be counterfeit: name brand drugs, generic drugs, even over-the-counter medications and herbal remedies.
The report’s author, Kristina Acri, a Fraser Institute senior fellow and associate professor of economics at Colorado College, says Canada generally has a very safe supply of drugs and the likelihood of purchasing counterfeit pills at a local pharmacy is low.
But she says when it does happen, the consequences can be deadly. Counterfeit medicines can contain no active ingredient, the wrong drug, the wrong dose, or drugs past their expiry dates.
“All of these put patients at risk for treatment failure, harmful side effects, and dangerous drug interactions,” the report notes.
The problem of counterfeit medications is not new and likely played a role in the 2016 death of musician Prince. The Associated Press reported that some of the pills found in Prince’s estate were falsely labelled as a generic prescription painkiller but actually contained a fatal dose of fentanyl.
Illegal internet pharmacies that source their medications from China, India and Singapore account for most of the counterfeit drugs on the market.
“Nevertheless, there are documented cases in which counterfeit medicines made their way into licensed brick-and-mortar pharmacies,” concludes the report entitled “Pharmaceutical Counterfeiting: Endangering Public Health, Society, and the Economy.”
Acri says there are several ways these medicines can make their way into the drug supply.
“It can happen just by sheer deceit. It can happen by moving outside of traditional supply chains and relying on perhaps smaller, less responsible wholesalers,” she told CTV NewsChannel from Colorado Springs.
There have been only a few incidents of counterfeit medications purchased at legitimate Canadian pharmacies and while the risk to most Canadians is low, there are a couple of key ways consumers can protect themselves, Acri says.
The first is to avoid internet pharmacies and rely instead on bricks-and-mortar drug stores.
“Consumers should always shop from reputable sources. There are a lot of online pharmacies that are not reputable,” she said.
The second tip is to examine all medication thoroughly and alert a pharmacist if something seems off.
“If a drug looks different, tastes different, falls apart, then maybe think about bringing it in and having it checked,” she said.
While counterfeit medications from legitimate pharmacies are rare, it’s good for consumers to be mindful of the risk, Acri says.
“Most of the time, if you go to a reliable pharmacy with a pharmacist you know, then you’ll be safe,” she said.
The report also suggests the federal government can do more to prevent counterfeit medications from spreading in the country.
Suggestions include doing more to regulate pharmaceutical shipments, stiffening criminal penalties, and creating an international treaty to crack down on the manufacturing and export of counterfeit medicines.