Beware of counterfeit drugs

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Counterfeit drugs in circulation

In Germany, more and more counterfeit drugs appear. Medical representatives warn of the health risks posed by the imitations. For example, the active ingredients contained vary widely.

The Internet: Ideal for the Medicines Industry Medicines and consumer advocates are warning of the increase in counterfeit medicines on the German pharmaceutical market. The general secretary of the German Society for Internal Medicine, Professor Ulrich Fölsch, warns: "They pose a potential danger to human health." Medical representatives believe that around half of all medicines traded on the Internet are counterfeit. 20 percent even contain substances that can lead to physical damage. Since high prices for medicines have to be paid in Germany, the Internet is ideal for the drug industry. With this, companies can theoretically sell their cheap alternatives to customers worldwide. It is not just about so-called lifestyle products such as erectile dysfunction and anabolic steroids, but also about prescription drugs like antibiotics, pain relievers and medication for AIDS and cancer therapy. The German Society for Internal Medicine (DGIM) warns that the counterfeits are difficult to identify as such. The packaging and appearance of the pill are deceptively imitated.

Protection against counterfeiting If a package insert is missing, the DGIM advises against taking the medicine in any case. Furthermore, it is warned against ordering on dubious websites. Although scandals have already occurred due to the sale of imitation drugs in pharmacies, as was the case a few years ago in northern Germany, the purchase of drugs in a local pharmacy or a reputable internet pharmacy is recommended. In addition, customers have little opportunity to protect themselves. Consistent medication control can only be carried out by the responsible authorities. That is why associations of pharmaceutical manufacturers, wholesalers and pharmacies in Germany have developed the "securPharm system", in which each pack bears a coded serial number. The system is still being tested, and first results are expected soon. The EU also plans to introduce additional safeguards by 2017.

Extremely high profit margins The World Health Organization calls medicines whose identity or origin is deliberately mislabeled "counterfeit". With some of the illegally traded medicines, the profit margin is more than 200 times. The counterfeit medicines are often much cheaper, but sometimes ineffective or have dangerous side effects, said the managing director of the German Chamber of Commerce and Industry (DIHK), Martin Wansleben, to the Saarbrücker Zeitung. Numerous people would now bring medicines from their vacation "without asking why they are so cheap".

Counterfeit health risks Imitation of medicinal products can endanger life. Since highly effective agents for cancer and AIDS therapy are imitated or those that are used against cardiovascular diseases, there is a high health risk for the respective patient, because among other things, the active ingredients could be incorrectly dosed. Scientists also found from studies to fight malaria that 20 to 42 percent of the drugs examined were of poor quality or were counterfeit. ("") Every year hundreds of thousands of people worldwide die from a malaria infection. (sb)

Photo credit: Rainer Sturm /

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Video: Fighting the public health threat of counterfeit drugs


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