A counterfeit drug is any unapproved drug that attempts to appear legitimate.

Counterfeiters are criminals who sell fake versions of prescription medicines, over-the-counter (OTC) drugs and even cosmetics. These illicit products may look like the real drug, but they usually contain the wrong ingredients, lack adequate active ingredients, or include toxic substances.

These imitations can come in many different forms such as illegal copies of medications, labeling errors such as incorrect dosage information, or the deliberate tampering with products.

Counterfeiters often use cheaper alternatives to fill their pills – including sawdust – which means you won’t get the same effect from taking these pills as you would with a real drug. In short, counterfeit medicines can be dangerous and even fatal.

Manufacturers of fake medicines tend to be most interested in targeting high volume, low cost medications because they are cheaper to make without sacrificing profit margins. They have also been found to target medications with no close substitutes, such as those for rare diseases, because it is much harder for the consumer to distinguish a counterfeit from a genuine product.

Are Counterfeit Drugs Sold Online?

The number one reason people buy medications online from foreign companies is due to the price of the drug in the US. Drugs purchased online are often not manufactured according to any guidelines and people are unaware of the kinds of harmful chemicals they could be putting into their bodies.

In addition to taking fake prescription medicine from unregulated sources, there are also counterfeit medications that are sold directly by online pharmacies. These sites claim to be real, but they are often not legitimate distributors of medicine.

How Can Counterfeit Drugs Harm Me?

Counterfeit drugs can have numerous dangerous effects, as they are not subject to the same quality control measures as legitimate pharmaceuticals.

One of the main risks to global health is fake medicines that contain no active ingredients. Fake malaria drugs, for example, are one of the main reasons why the mortality rate of malaria is so high. There really isn’t a way for a consumer to tell whether there is an active ingredient or not in their medicine.

Counterfeit drugs can result in a number of injuries including:

  • Blindness
  • Liver failure
  • Severe allergic reactions
  • Seizures
  • Stroke
  • Heart attack
  • Cancer
  • Shock
  • Kidney failure
  • Death

Counterfeit drugs often contain contaminants and defective ingredients which can cause harm to the patient due to side effects or allergic reactions. Fake medicines can also contain too much of the active ingredient since standards for quality control are almost always nonexistent.

The risks associated with taking counterfeit drugs include:

Danger of drug interactions. For example, when counterfeit drugs are combined with other medications with adulterated ingredients, the side effects are not only unpredictable, but they can be harmful or fatal. Counterfeit drugs have the potential to harm the elderly at a much faster rate because of how sensitive an aging body can be.

Ingestion of toxic substances. Counterfeit medicines have been found to contain rat poison, lead, solvents, and other life-threatening chemicals.

Containing no active ingredients. As previously mentioned, fake medicines can be manufactured without any active ingredients. The opposite can also be harmful when too much of an active ingredient is present in the drug. Excessive quantities of active ingredients has been linked to increased risk of heart attack and stroke.

Containing dangerous substitutes for active ingredients. For example, extremely toxic diethylene glycol is sometimes substituted for glycerine in counterfeit cough syrup, which has caused multiple deaths in many countries.

The harm from counterfeit drugs isn’t just in terms of your health from ingesting fake medicines, but the consequences from the counterfeit drug industry can harm you in other ways. The counterfeit drug market is worth hundreds of billions of dollars worldwide and it is associated with organized crime, terrorism, and insurgent groups seeking funds to carry out their activities.

The lack of regulation in some countries enables counterfeiters to easily set up illegal laboratories and produce fake medicines. Counterfeit drugs from China have also found their way into the drug supply chain of developing countries, which are then sold as legitimate drugs to unsuspecting patients.

In addition to posing a health risk to consumers, counterfeit drugs also make it more difficult for real drug companies to sell their goods. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), counterfeit drugs account for nearly 10% of all medicine in circulation and cost governments, legitimate manufacturers, and patients at least $30 billion per year.

Can I Sue If I’ve Been Harmed By A Counterfeit Drug?

Pharmaceutical companies who distribute drugs in America are subject to strict rules and regulations through the Food & Drug Administration (FDA), but it’s easier for counterfeiters to get away with illegal distribution practices when they’re operating from non-U.S. soil, which is why many drug manufacturers have filed lawsuits against counterfeit manufacturers and distributors overseas.

As a consumer, what happens if you’ve been the victim of a counterfeit drug? For years the US government and safety groups have been warning consumers about counterfeit prescription medication being sold online. However, when you get a counterfeit or harmful drug from your doctor or a pharmacy, there may be some liability on the part of a medical professional if they knew, or should have known that the drug they prescribed was counterfeit or tainted in some way.

If you are harmed from ingesting counterfeit drugs purchased from a pharmacy, you may be able to sue the pharmacy and possibly the pharmacist who sold you the fake product for damages. Additionally, you may be able to sue the drug’s distributor and anyone else in the supply chain.

If a doctor, pharmacist, or drug distributor had a reason to know or suspect that a drug was counterfeit, they could be held liable under a negligence standard. In other words, if someone has a duty to make sure that a drug placed into the stream of commerce is safe, and that duty was breached, which caused harm, then they may be liable for damages.

Some jurisdictions may allow an injured person to sue under strict liability if a person knowingly sold you counterfeit medicine. If someone knows that they sold you a defective (counterfeit) drug, they may be 100% liable for your injuries without you having to prove that they were negligent.

Can A Drug Counterfeiter Be Charged With A Crime?

The FDA’s Office of Criminal Investigations specializes in conducting criminal investigations related to the illegal activities involving regulated products, such as medicines and drugs that are falsely branded or distributed without approval. They arrest those responsible for these crimes by bringing them before the Department Of Justice where they can be prosecuted.

The FDA has an office dedicated solely to catch criminals who commit cybercrimes of trafficking and distributing counterfeit and unapproved drugs online.

Do I Need A Lawyer?

If you have been harmed by a counterfeit health product or prescription medication, it’s a good idea to consult with an experienced personal injury attorney about how best to proceed.

It’s possible that filing a personal injury claim could help you recover financial compensation for your medical expenses and other damages. A personal injury lawyer can help you if you have a case against the people responsible for harm caused by fake medications.