Counterfeit drug schemes become global threat

Fake or altered drugs can be ineffective and even deadly, according to an Rx Observer blog post. But counterfeiting medicines is a lucrative and growing scheme in the United States and abroad, with payers often footing the bill.

The Hematology and Oncology Center of Somerset, Kentucky, for instance, pleaded guilty to charges of purchasing and prescribing black market drugs. Doctors agreed to pay $2 million plus interest to settle allegations of violating the False Claims Act, according to Safe Medicines.

And Texas oncologist Eduardo Miranda, M.D., received five years' probation and a $1 million fine for buying and prescribing black market cancer medicines, the article noted. Miranda introduced misbranded drugs into the country after purchasing them from Quality Specialty Products, the Canada Drugs subsidiary that the Food and Drug Administration cited for selling fake Avastin (bevacizumab, which treats colorectal, lung and kidney cancers).

The FDA launched a national campaign to warn consumers about fraudulent online pharmacies selling counterfeit medications, as FierceHealthIT previously reported.  

Cancer drugs are often counterfeited due to their high cost. One tactic is diluting a drug's active ingredient or replacing it with a cheap antibiotic, the blog post noted.

"While the altered drug[s] may or may not cause immediate physical harm to patients, they are certainly of much reduced potency and sterility, thus negatively impacting treatment outcomes," the Rx Observer added.

So healthcare providers should encourage patients to look for oddities in medication packaging and alert them if they suspect they received bogus medication, as FierceHealthcare previously reported.

Two drugs often counterfeited include Alimta (pemetrexed, which treats lung cancer) and Herceptin (trastuzumab, used for breast cancer). The Herceptin counterfeiting trend suggests that trafficking in fake drugs has organized into criminal syndicates, the Observer noted. It's a profitable crime, since Herceptin costs about $4,500 per patient per month and generated $6.6 billion in sales last year.   

But greater quantities of bogus medications are being intercepted and pulled off the market, New Legal Review reported, due to global enforcement actions against the manufacture and sale of fake drugs.        

For more:
- read the RX Observer blog post
- here's the Safe Medicines article
- see the New Legal Review article