There have been an inordinate amount of time and resources expended on the eradication of illegal narcotics, which of course, are dangerous and in some cases even deadly.
However, our product liability attorneys want you to know that you aren’t immune from danger simply because you don’t abuse cocaine or heroin. In fact, therapeutic medicines, which are often sold by your pharmacist or online, can be equally dangerous – if not more so – because many people have a false sense of security about them.
These are drugs that may be either watered down or downright counterfeit, and they’re made either by criminal organizations or simply by manufacturers who are too lazy or cheap to follow through with appropriate medical guidelines.
We’ve often seen this as a major problem in the developing world, but the U.S. is fast seeing an increasing number of deaths relating to drugs that didn’t do what they promised — usually because they had little or none of the active ingredient advertised.
In Africa, for example, huge numbers of people were dying of the HIV virus, even though they were taking medication, because those medicines, rather than containing the necessary combination of chemicals to fight the disease, were made with talcum powder, chalk and other substances.
In fact, it’s estimated that up to 10 percent of all vital drugs distributed in second or third-world markets would fail quality testing.
In the U.S., it’s estimated to be far less of a problem, with less than 1 percent of all drugs being counterfeit. However, when you consider that there are approximately 4 billion prescriptions written each year — we’re talking about a potential 40,000 prescriptions that could be deadly.
For example, nearly 150 people died in the U.S. in 2007 and 2008 from use of a fake blood-thinning drug called heparin. Earlier this year, it was revealed that some 19 hospitals across the country had purchased a phony form of a cancer-fighting drug, Avastin. Thankfully, the issue was caught before anyone died, but the potential for harm was certainly there.
What is far more common is that reputable drug companies market products that turn out to be dangerous to consumers. Dangerous drugs and defective medical products are an ongoing risk to consumers because the health care system is motivated by profit, and watchdog organizations like the Food and Drug Administration lack the resources to conduct meaningful review, research or enforcement.
When it comes to counterfeit medications, finding those responsible can be a challenge. In the case of the fake Avastin, officials believe an underground Middle Eastern gang was responsible for its distribution. Officials raided the operation, but many core members are believed to have fled and reassembled in Iraq and Syria to continue operations.
What’s troubling is that some of these manufacturers can often out-price the more responsible drugmakers, often putting the latter out of business. But the fact is that U.S. pharmacies and hospitals shoulder at least some of the responsibility for failing to ensure that these phony drugs aren’t distributed to patients.