Fight The Fakes

Speak up about fake medicines.

Stories from the Front Line

Once it’s circulating,  no-one can escape.

Mirabelle |

Once it’s circulating,  no-one can escape.


As a child growing up in Cameroon, I watched family members die from various diseases due to a lack of access to adequate medical treatment. I witnessed first-hand, and heard many more stories, of street peddlers selling all kinds of drugs, be it counterfeit or not, to gullible customers who believed these drugs were the answer to all their health problems. Inadequate research and regulations to ensure medications meet specific standards in such settings inspired me to pursue training in pharmacy. My vision was to be at the forefront of ensuring that safe and affordable medications were made available to people in resource-limited regions, and that the medications were used for the correct clinical indications.

During my pharmacy training at Long Island University in New York, I came to understand that a myriad of factors, including stricter drug regulations and policies, surveillance, research, and well-trained human resources, were all instrumental in the battle against drug misuse, counterfeits, and accessibility. It was only after working as a pharmacist with Doctors Without Borders/Medecins Sans Frontiers (MSF) in South Sudan and Uganda that I understood the global threat of fake drugs in society.

Up to this point, my experiences with fake drugs were personal. I remember my classmate who was  about to have her sixth child and did not understand how it was possible after being on two different birth control pills. Then there’s my aunt who keeps relapsing with typhoid fever despite completing treatment. And my grandmother with uncontrolled high blood pressure even after diet modifications.

On a recent visit to Cameroon, I learned of an acquaintance who had a small “pharmacy” shop close to a bustling university campus. This person had no formal medical training but was dispensing commonly used drugs for treatment of STIs and malaria, among others. On further inquiry, I learned medications were dispensed at the patient’s request, often without any evaluation or a prescription from a licensed medical practitioner. These unregulated medications are easily attainable and sold in several communities in Cameroon.  As a result, I began to wonder about the public health implications of such potentially dangerous operations on the health of the community and similar populations globally.

It’ll take a lot of community awareness and education for folks to understand how dangerous fake drugs can be to the body and, even more importantly, the rise of resistance from fake antibiotics. Resource limited settings are at a disadvantage in terms of handling this threat and so we must be at the fore front of spreading the word and making this issue more visible. But, this isn’t a local problem, it’s  a global public health threat that calls for global, coordinated action from all players.

As soon as I came across #fakemeds on twitter, I just knew I had to get involved in whichever way I could to raise awareness of the public health threat of fake medicines.

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#DidYouKnow? Possession of #fakemeds is illegal, not just production or sale

In 2013 US authorities published warning of fake #diabetes meds—ineffective & dangerous for patients

Decades of fighting #malaria could be put at risk by #fakemeds on the market

In 2013 1.2 million sachets of #fakemeds were seized in Le Havre, France. The biggest seizure in the #EU

Up to 40% of the drug supply of some countries in Africa could be #fakemeds

Of the 1mil deaths per year due to #malaria, 200,000 could be avoided if patients weren't treated with #fakemeds

Poisons found in #fakemeds include mercury, rat poison, boric acid, paint & antifreeze

700,000 people die because of #fakemeds to treat #malaria & #TB each year

Every therapeutic class of pharmaceutical product has been the subject of #counterfeiting

30% of countries have little or no regulation to effectively combat #fakemeds

#Fakemeds: 32% have no active ingredients, 40% have incorrect ingredients & dose, 8.5% contain dangerous contaminants

1 medicine in 2 purchased on internet sites that conceal their physical address is a #fakemed

123 countries are impacted by #fakemeds

20% of all #malaria deaths worldwide can be directly associated with the use of #fakemeds

In the US only 4% of online pharmacies appear to be in compliance with pharmacy laws & practice standards

#fakemeds are 10% to 30% of global medicine: less than 1% in some countries, +30% in parts of Africa Asia & Latin America

On internet sites that conceal their physical address 50% of the drugs are #fakemeds

In 2013, Operation #Biyela seized 550 million doses of illicit medicine in #Africa

#fakemeds could be up to 15% of medicines in circulation worldwide

36% of #anti-malarial drugs in #SoutheastAsia are #fakemeds

1 out of 4 counterfeit products intercepted by EU customs in 2011 were #fakemeds

Both branded and generic products are subject to counterfeiting

.@INTERPO_HQ L Operation #PangeaVI seized 9.8 million illegal & counterfeit drugs #fakemeds

#Fakemeds seized during #Biyela? Antibiotics, painkillers, meds for high blood pressure & diabetes

60% of all spam offers medicine- its an inexpensive way for #counterfeiters to target you with #fakemeds.

.@UNODC estimates the market value of fake #antimalarials at over US$400mil in west Africa alone

From antibiotics to pain relievers, more than 500 versions of fake #pharmaceutical products are circulating #fakemeds

India may have as much as 12-25% of their supply contaminated with substandard and #fakemeds

Up to 30% of medicines in developing countries are #fakemeds

#DidYouKnow? 96% of online pharmacies operate illegally

2011: European Customs retained 27.5 million #fakemeds

#Fakemeds seized in Le Havre in May 2013 were hidden in sachets of tea

Criminals trafficking #fakemeds make profits 10x more than those trafficking illicit drugs

NIH 2012 study of 7 countries in southeast Asia reveals that 36% of #antimalarials are #fakemeds

#Fakemeds can contain no active ingredients at all – a direct threat to patients that need treatment

More than 50% of medicine sold worldwide from illegal online sources are #fakemeds