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Part 2: Illicit Pharmaceuticals Will “Hurt” You

Thursday, November 14th, 2019

Counterfeit medical products and devices are a serious problem worldwide. While you may knowingly purchase a pirated DVD or a fake wristwatch, you will not do the same for counterfeit medication. Why? Because this fake pharmaceutical purchase harms you. According to a PricewaterhouseCoopers Report of 2017, the counterfeit pharmaceutical market worldwide earns between USD163 to USD217 billion annually. In T&T we too are seriously affected by this phony medication problem. The reason for that pain not being relieved but becoming more severe therefore, may very likely be the medication. Unfortunately, illicit pharmaceuticals have been found at pharmacies across our country.

But the problem with the trade in counterfeit medication is not simply the product. In its 2012 report, The United Nations Interregional Crime and Justice Research Institute (UNICRI) clearly established the links between counterfeit medication and organized crime. It also noted that genuine medication being smuggled and repackaged increased the complexity of the problem. The report noted “Apart from the production of fake pharmaceuticals, organised criminal groups also hijack authentic medicines – smuggling, repackaging and altering their expiring dates. The final purpose is to make these products re-sellable and re-introduce them into the market”. Since that report, there has been an increase in the use of illicit pharmaceuticals by these networks to support human trafficking, the trade in illegal firearms and other transnational crimes.

In Trinidad and Tobago the list of illicit pharmaceuticals include birth control and weight loss pills, medication for chronic diseases such as high blood pressure and erectile dysfunction medication among others. In many instances the drug is a bit cheaper than in other retail outlets. What is of greater importance is that such items are normally of inferior quality containing the incorrect proportion or no active ingredients. In some cases products containing harmful substances such as cement have been found in illicit pharmaceuticals often resulting in increased morbidity. As consumers, we therefore need to be vigilant when making our medical purchases. In doing so, firstly we ensure we live healthier lives and secondly we safeguard against supporting criminal activity.

It should be noted that the only certain way it can be established that medication is genuine is through laboratory tests. However, both the pharmacy and you the consumer must be alert to ensure that pharmaceuticals meet the required efficacy standards. Here are some guidelines.

  • Pharmacies should ensure that all medication is purchased from legitimate suppliers and we the consumers should purchase from well-established reputable pharmacies
  • Be comfortable that the price is one that is not “ too good to be true”
  • Examine the expiry date. A missing expiry date or an expired item is a sign that something is wrong
  • Inspect the packaging. Check for spelling or grammatical errors and ensure that the writing is in English
  • If it is medicine you previously used, do you find that suddenly you are getting new side effects from its use?
  • Finally, if you have any doubts about the medication do not buy it but make enquiries from the authorized supplier.

While consumers should be wary of counterfeit pharmaceuticals, we also encourage the authorities to be more vigilant in inspecting agencies charged with dispensing medication to the public.

Finally, remember that suspicions of illicit pharmaceuticals can be reported anonymously and safely to Crime Stoppers at 800-TIPS. We also encourage pharmacists, purchasing officers and employees to similarly use our hotline and anonymously report suspicions of illicit pharmaceuticals.

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