August 22, 2016

Prince Death Highlights Dangerous Fakes

New questions are swirling around the untimely death of pop icon Prince and the potential use of counterfeit drugs. And while we may never know the full story, it brings new light to the problem of fake medicines.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Drug Enforcement Administration, fentanyl is 50-100 times more potent than morphine; it’s so potent that in some forms, it can be fatal even to touch.

The fentanyl pills are sold under the guise of common painkillers, like Oxycodone or Xanax; counterfeiters press and dye the pills, so they’re almost indistinguishable from their legal counterparts. Counterfeiters then peddle their product as authentic prescriptions.

Buyers who think they’re ingesting safe amounts of a run-of-the-mill prescription medication have no idea that what they’re taking is much more deadly. The chances of overdose increase exponentially.

It’s a chilling reminder to us all: don’t take a prescription drug unless it’s prescribed by your physician and obtained from a reputable pharmacy. And help spread the word to fight dangerous fakes like counterfeit medicines.

In the case of Prince, investigators tested an Aleve bottle filled with two dozen pills at his Minnesota estate. The pills appeared to be a generic painkiller similar to Vicodin, but, in reality, contained fentanyl.

It’s possible that Prince did not know what he was taking. It’s also possible that these pills contributed to his death.

The DEA reports that between late 2013 and 2014 alone, there were over 700 deaths in the United States related to fentanyl alone. They note that this number is likely grossly underestimated.

The number of overdoses and deaths attributed to fentanyl is growing larger every day. And fentanyl is just one example of the dangerous fakes that are on the market posing as legitimate medicines.

Counterfeit medicines are becoming a bigger and more deadly threat to unsuspecting consumers. According to the Alliance for Safe Online Pharmacies (ASOP Global), as many as ninety-six percent of all online pharmacies are operating illegally. What’s worse, consumers often can’t spot a rogue website or fake medicine simply by sight.

“Sadly, Prince appears to be just one of the tens of thousands of victims that Interpol reports are injured or harmed annually from counterfeit medicines,” reminds ASOP Global Executive Director Libby Baney. As many as ninety-six percent of all online pharmacies are non-compliant with pharmacy regulations and could be putting patients at risk.

What adds to the complexity of this problem is the fact that so many sellers have shifted from shipping counterfeit goods in large containers to international small packages, which makes it even tougher for law enforcement to track. Data from our recent study suggests that customs officials have only been successful in seizing a little over two percent of the value of all counterfeit goods worldwide.

The vast majority of fake medicines are getting through to patients who have no idea they are playing a deadly game.

Mark Elliot is executive vice president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Global Intellectual Property Center. 

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