What are counterfeit medicines?
Counterfeit medicines are “fake” medicines that are often produced in unsafe and unsanitary conditions. This means they are not inspected by regulatory authorities making it impossible to know what ingredients the counterfeit medicines contain.1
What are the dangers?
Counterfeits can be very dangerous and are a serious public health risk. The primary danger in taking a counterfeit medicine is that you are putting something into your body that may not help your current condition and, more alarmingly, could result in harmful effects to your overall health.1
Experts at Pfizer have found harmful substances in counterfeit medicines including boric acid, leaded highway paint, floor polish, brick dust and heavy metals.2
Scale of the problem
The Department of Health and Social Care has reported a general increase in the number of people using the internet to purchase all commodities and there is a corresponding increase in the number of people using the web to self-diagnose and self-prescribe.3
As of June 30, 2018, counterfeit versions of 42 Pfizer medicines, have been detected in the legitimate supply chain of at least 62 countries, including the US, Canada and the UK.4
However, to put this into perspective, over 750 million prescriptions are written in the UK each year but only a small number of counterfeit medicines have reached the supply chain since August 2004.5
Medicines on the internet
Consumers should be cautious as medicines obtained through unregulated and unregistered internet sites or via social media are not made by trained scientists under the safe conditions required for patient safety. This poses a very significant health risk.
All pharmacies operating in Great Britain must be registered with The General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC), who also operate a voluntary internet pharmacy logo scheme. The logo helps consumers to identify legitimate online pharmacies so that you can be sure you are purchasing safe and genuine medicines online. The GPhC logo contains the pharmacy’s unique seven-digit registration number, and when clicked takes the user to the Royal Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain RPSGB website to help verify the pharmacy.5
Pharmacies operating in Northern Ireland (and in the EU) must be registered with the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) as an online seller. Additionally, sellers in Northern Ireland must display the 'Distance Selling Logo' on every page of the website where medicines can be purchased.6
What is Pfizer doing about counterfeit medicines?
For Pfizer, counterfeit medicines are a matter of patient health and safety and it is an issue we take very seriously. Our aim is to help detect, disrupt and deter illegal counterfeit medicines.
We are working with governments, regulators, police, and customs around the world to warn people about the dangers of buying online and to catch the criminals responsible.
- World Health Organisation.Substandard and falsified medical products Jan 2018
- Pfizer data on file 2019
- Department of Health. Counterfeit Medicines Accessed Nov 2021
- Pfizer data on file 2019
- General Pharmaceutical Council. Internet Pharmacy Accessed Nov 2021
- Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA). Register of authorised online sellers of medicines Accessed Nov 2021