Are The Drugs I’m Taking Real?!

Bad Drugs, Man!

Not just an epithet from the party life of the ‘60s and ‘70s anymore, the title evokes a significant current problem, particularly for seniors. The source of bad drugs — everything from outdated to adulterated to stolen to counterfeit medications — has become a significant concern. 

71% of prescription medicine in the US is consumed by people over the age of 50. As we age, some of the medications we take are particularly critical to everyday well being, so bad drugs can be an enormous threat to seniors’ health. The warehouses of legitimate pharmaceutical manufacturers have become major targets of theft. Federal agents are increasingly being tasked with crimes to intercept stolen prescription drugs, but also  interdicting the flow of counterfeit drugs into the country.

In 2014, federal agents seized almost $73 million in counterfeit drugs, part of an international black market perhaps exceeding $200 billion, or up to 10% of the overall pharmaceutical economy. Criminals, who once targeted consumers with stolen or faked Viagra are now turning to life saving drugs for major diseases, treatment of cholesterol, AIDs, and even mental health conditions. Many of these thieves now avoid taking narcotics because the possession laws are so much more severe.

Links to foreign sources in Turkey, Russia, and Armenia have been identified as providing medications with no active ingredient. Some of these counterfeits have been found to contain toxic ingredients. Many counterfeits have been brought in through Canada and sold to smaller pharmaceutical operations, or wholesalers. White-collar America crooks are some of the largest participants, however, who have targeted the most expensive medications paid for under the Part D system of Medicare.

A recent case in Ohio involved nearly $400 million in stolen and counterfeit medications, where a wholesaler faked records. Internet pharmacies bear the greatest scrutiny. Recently, the GAO estimated that there are 36,000 internet pharmacy distribution sites. A 2005 study by the FDA found that 85% of those online pharmacies advertising as being based in Canada, were actually based in 27 other countries.

By 2017, under new federal legislation, all pharmaceutical packaging must contain serial numbers to aid tracking of medications from the manufacturer to the pharmacy or doctor’s office. A database will allow the tracking of sources of medications. Obviously, criminals will duplicate the package tracking methods quickly, so doctors and pharmacies being able to track the Rx source is important.

AARP offers the following advice:: when using an Internet pharmacy, use the Verified Internet Pharmacy Practice Sites service (VIPPS) which is run through the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy ( > Programs > VIPPS > Find a VIPPS Online Pharmacy). Also, do not do business with an online pharmacy or any distributor that does not require a prescription, or offers to write a prescription for you. Do not do business with store-front pharmacies that offer “cut-rate” drugs.

If the offer seems too good to be true, well ……………

(some information in this article is derived from the AARP.Org/Bulletin, May 2016)