Misplaced Faith: How to Identify Counterfeit Drugs, a Global Epidemic Affecting Senior Health

how to identify counterfeit drugs We place enormous faith in medicine. It wasn’t that long ago, really, that people saw surgery as high-minded butchery and medicine as akin to witchcraft. It isn’t hard to see why as we are often told to take some kind of pill or tonic or solution then trust that, unseen in our bodies, things will get better. It’s a leap of faith in the goodwill and expertise of a lot of people, and if you’re the caregiver for an older adult, it’s a leap you probably take daily.

After all, older adults tend to need a lot of medication. People aged 65-79 average 27 new prescriptions per year. There’s a debate as to whether that is too much, or if people are over-medicated, with reasonable arguments on both sides, of course. But for every prescription, family members and caregivers need to know that the drugs they are taking are healthy—and legitimate.

Unfortunately, this isn’t always the case.

The scourge of fake drugs has become a global epidemic. Millions of people buy pills online thinking they’re getting a discount on expensive medicines, such as with safe generic drugs. In reality, they’re buying dangerous knockoffs created to make a profit and with no health concerns in mind. It’s a worldwide criminal industry, and an easy one to fall for.

When taking care of your aging loved one, you may need to handle their medications. Here’s how to make sure that the drugs you purchase are safe and legal.

Understanding an Epidemic

We don’t use the term epidemic lightly. In fact, pandemic might be a better word. The statistics are mind-boggling. In 2011, Interpol seized more than 2 million fake pills. In 2015, that number was over 20 million. That’s an enormous increase. And while it might be due to a sharper focus on the issue, the fact that there are that many fake pills out there is sobering. And the consequences are staggering.

In one remote Himalayan hospital, over 8000 patients died because the anti-infectant used after surgery was fake. In 2012, more than 200 people in Pakistan died because an antimalarial drug they were given was tainted. In many developing countries, the World Health Organization estimates that up to 20% of drugs are fake in one way or another. This is a global problem. With a worldwide, online marketplace, fake drugs can come from anywhere, and be sold to anyone.

How to Prevent a Drug Disaster

The problem with fake drugs is that they don’t contain any active ingredients, or if they do it’s in trace and useless amounts. At best, your loved one is essentially taking a placebo, and that’s if the drugs weren’t so hastily created that they are actually poisonous. But, there are steps you can take to make sure you’re protecting the health of your loved one.

  • Be careful of online pharmacies: Often sent to older adults through tracker cookies or phishing scams, the so-called pharmacies offer huge and appealing discounts. But these people are criminals, and they’re putting the health of your loved one in peril. There are a few ways to prevent falling for this:
  • Deal with online pharmacies you know: If you use Walgreens, for instance, go to their website for ease and convenience.
  • Encourage digital literacy: An older adult trained in the ways of the web, both good and bad, is less likely to fall for a scam. And, as a caregiver, you need to be comfortable in this world as well.
  • Check out every pharmacy: If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Luckily, there are websites like LegitScript where you can make sure that your pharmacy is on the up and up. Don’t assume all online sales are crooked—just don’t assume they are all legal, either.
  • Pay attention to class action lawsuits: It’s a good idea to google the drugs your aging loved one is taking in case they’re involved in a suit about their efficiency. There are many lawsuits against pharmaceutical companies over seemingly legitimate drugs that didn’t do as advertised or were dangerous. Paying attention could be a lifesaver.
  • Keep your medication managed: When medicine isn’t properly managed, it gets lost, or it expires without being used. This runs up costs and makes it more tempting to use a cheaper service. While doing so is understandable, it’s also dangerous, which is why saving money starts with the right organization including medication management technology

Being online has enabled so many of us to expand our world, and can save us money in so many ways. But it has also enabled people who traffic in human misery for a quick profit. As a caregiver, you’re partly responsible for protecting your loved one from some of the ills of the world. Being smart about medications, and only buying from responsible and vetted sources, can help keep them healthy for a long time, ensuring they are able to continue to explore this great, big world.

Institute on Aging offers a wide range of programs, services, and online resources to help older adults live independently, with dignity and adventure. Get in touch with us today to learn more.

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Institute on Aging

Committed to offering thoughtful discussions and resources to older adults, their families, and their caregivers.

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