Counterfeit Drugs

Why Should I Be Concerned About Counterfeit Drugs?

Counterfeit medicine is fake medicine. It may be contaminated or contain the wrong ingredient or no active ingredient at all. If you or your family receives and uses counterfeit drugs you may experience adverse effects to your health – including death. In the United States, the most common way that people receive counterfeit drugs is from ordering from rogue Internet drug sites. This is because it is easier for unscrupulous people to get around the regulatory safeguards that brick and mortar pharmacies must follow.

In 1999, NABP developed the VIPPS accreditation program so that consumers would know where they could safely purchase medicines. NABP also publishes a list of Not Recommended websites so that consumers will know where they should not buy drugs from.

Sometimes counterfeiters are able to infiltrate the traditional distribution system that serves your neighborhood pharmacies. To combat this, in 2004 NABP developed the VAWD accreditation program for wholesale distributors of prescription drugs. Wholesale distributors are responsible for delivering prescription drugs to pharmacies. Many states require that wholesale distributors earn NABP’s accreditation before they can do business in that state.

Counterfeiting is a global problem recognized by the World Health Organization as well as Food and Drug Administration (FDA), Drug Enforcement Administration, and state boards of pharmacy. The facts surrounding counterfeit drugs are disturbing:

  • An estimated 1-2% of drugs in North America are fraudulent.
  • Many counterfeit drugs are bought via legitimate-looking websites. Although possible, it is rare for drugs purchased at reputable pharmacies to be counterfeit.
  • Worldwide drug counterfeiting generated an estimated $75 billion in 2010, according to the Center for Medicine in the Public Interest.
  • According to FDA, the number of fraudulent prescription drugs intercepted by customs officials nearly doubled between 2004 and 2005.
  • Counterfeit sales are increasing at nearly twice the pace of legitimate pharmaceutical sales – estimated at 13% annually by the Center for Medicine in the Public Interest.
  • Counterfeit drugs are commonly manufactured in countries like China and India.
  • The composition of fraudulent drugs ranges from crude mixtures of glue, chalk, and sugar to nearly exact chemical replicas of complex pharmaceuticals.

Identifying Counterfeit Drugs

How can you tell the difference between a legitimate drug and a counterfeit drug? It is not always easy, and some counterfeit drugs mimic legitimate ones so well that, without running a laboratory test, it is very difficult to tell the difference. However, there are telltale signs of counterfeit drugs that should raise a red flag. These signs include unanticipated side effects and changes in packaging, labeling, color, taste, and pill shape.

  • Packaging – Does the packaging look as though it has been compromised?
  • Labeling – Is the label on crooked? Is it different than the label the prescription drug had before?
  • Pill Appearance – Are the pills cracked or chipped? Has the pill color changed? Does it appear a shade different from earlier prescriptions?
  • Pill Taste – Did the drug taste different?
  • Side Effects – Did you experience any adverse effects?

If you answered “yes” to any of the questions above, report it. Take action. By being proactive, you can make a difference in your health or the health of a loved one.

How to Report Suspected Counterfeits

  • If you suspect a drug you’ve purchased is counterfeit, there are several things you can do:
  • Contact your local state board of pharmacy and the state board of pharmacy where the Internet drug outlet is located.
  • Contact NABP at or via the online Report a Site page.
  • Contact FDA’s MedWatch program online or by phone at 1-800/332-1088.
  • Contact the pharmaceutical manufacturer.
  • Contact the pharmacist who sold you the drug.