Increasingly Sold Online, Fake Medicines Can Kill

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(DGIwire) — What some online pharmacies claim to offer—brand-name drugs at cut-rate prices—can seem too good to be true. Drugs for treating high blood pressure, cholesterol and low libido are all easily orderable and brought right to your door without a valid prescription, according to a recent CNN report. Many of these online retailers, adds CNN, say they can cut through the red tape that ties up more traditional brick-and-mortar pharmacies and pass on a substantial savings to the customer in the process.

Not so fast. On its website, the World Health Organization reports that up to half of all illegitimate online pharmacies sell counterfeit medicine. Furthermore, after completing a survey of 11,000 online pharmacies, the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy (NABP) said in its 2014 annual report that 96 percent of the pharmacies studied failed to meet standards set down by federal or state laws, NABP pharmacy practice, and patient safety guidelines.

Pfizer’s Chief Security Officer and VP of Global Security John Clark told CNN in an August 2015 article that 78 counterfeit medications have been located in 109 countries. Viagra, of course, was the most popular. Clark went on to say that, in the company’s investigation, it found brick dust, rat poison and even paint in counterfeit drugs seized. He told CNN he didn’t believe the counterfeiters were trying to poison their customers—that’s just bad business—but that they were looking for the least-expensive binding agents possible in an effort to boost profit margins.

Online pharmacies are good at sales—that’s why they exist. According to CNN, they often list themselves as Canadian—since most Americans associate Canada with cheap medicine—but really source their drugs from counterfeiters worldwide. A counterfeiter from Pakistan, speaking to CNN incognito, said that it was very easy to market and sell fake drugs all over the world, to America, Europe, China, Iran and Iraq.

How to address this problem? James A. Hayward, Ph.D., president and CEO of Applied DNA Sciences, believes the answer lies in plant DNA. “Our supply-chain DNA marking techniques can be applied to a tablet or a package and make it easier to determine if a product is genuine at any point along the production chain, from pharmaceutical plant to store shelves,” he says. Based in Stony Brook, NY, Applied DNA Sciences has developed and commercialized plant DNA-based markers for the identification and tracking of a wide range of products, including pharmaceuticals.

“Coupled with police efforts to ensure that dangerous or counterfeit drugs do not reach the market, we believe our technology could go a long way toward addressing the scourge of dangerous fake medications,” Hayward adds.