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Beware of Black-Market Meds

There are more counterfeit medicines on the market today than you would ever imagine. This is already a serious global crime – and it’s growing dramatically.

Shockingly, in cases that have been tried against these criminals, the penalties have amounted to a slap on the hand.  According to an investigative report in the AARP Bulletin, one high profile case involves a counterfeit version of the cancer drug Avastin “that had no active ingredient.” 

The FDA sent out letters to doctors in 48 states warning them.  Some of these counterfeit drugs were traced to Canada and a company known as Montana Health Care Solutions.  There has not been a full accounting of how many people were affected by the fake Avastin.   The owner of the company basically walked away after getting just five years’ probation and six months house arrest.

This counterfeit drug practice has been going on longer than anyone wants to admit.  A few years back, two brothers broke into an Eli Lilly Warehouse in Connecticut and drove away with anti-psychotic and cancer drugs worth over $100 million.  Many of these drugs were sold on the black market, including at two dozen pharmacies in Texas.   The dangers came when some of these medications are proven to be ineffective or toxic to patients.

An amazingly small number of adverse reactions related to counterfeit drugs have been reported to the FDA.  Reports say that this is only the tip of the iceberg compared to the enormity of this problem.  According to Bruce Foucart, Director of the National Intellectual Property Rights Coordination Center, established in 1999 to fight counterfeiting, “It’s very difficult to prove – even when a person dies.  Unless a complete autopsy was done, we will never know the answer.” 

The investigative report from AARP states further, “The black-market drug trade may exceed $200 billion internationally.  That accounts for 10% of the pharmaceuticals in the global drug trade.  Illicit drugs are most likely to target Americans 50 or older, who are responsible for 71 percent of outpatient prescriptions.   It’s yet another scam against seniors who sometimes have difficulty paying medical expenses as they age and can be easy prey.

Investigators have turned up links to Russian and Armenian crime families, but the biggest players are American white-collar criminals who have found a niche trafficking the most expensive drugs paid for by Medicare Part D.

What can you do?

  • Don’t be tempted to buy your medicines from internet pharmacies that mail drugs directly to you, sometimes even without a prescription, at a cut-rate cost.Reports say there are 36,000 such rogue pharmacies, many selling drugs that contain too little, too much, or no active ingredients needed to treat your ailment.
  • Don’t be fooled by seemingly legitimate Canadian pharmacies.They are often just a storefront.One FDA study found that 85% of these so-called pharmacies were based in 27 other countries.
  • Watch for the fliers often sent to people in retirement homes that offer your prescriptions at up to 60% off.Stay away from these sellers.
  • Talk to your doctor or a larger and more well-known pharmacy about ways to get your prescriptions at a discount and without worry.
  • If you have an older loved one, be sure to monitor their prescriptions and where they are dispensed.

The government has made some effort to tighten laws regarding the drug distribution system.  By late 2017 a law signed by then President Obama required that prescription drug packaging must include a serial number to aid in tracking where the medicines came from.  The legislation also allows medical providers a way to check a database of licensed warehouses so they can check their sources.

Skeptics say, however, it will only be a matter of time before the crooks will be able to counterfeit these codes, besides the drugs themselves.

Going after these criminals can be a long and demanding process.   It is extremely difficult to prove that a patient ingested a compromised medication and that it physically harmed them. 

Nonetheless, the attorneys at Theodoros & Rooth will fight for these victims.  If you think you have been harmed by a pharmaceutical you suspect to be fake, or are concerned about the death of a friend or loved one as a result of a medication or medical malpractice on the part of a doctor or other medical provider, do not hesitate to call us.

We have decades of experience investigating and litigating these areas.  Know that Theodoros & Rooth takes these cases very seriously.  Contact us today.  We are always here for you with a free consultation.