A lot of media coverage about counterfeit drug threats in the U.S. are spurred by the media relations efforts of organizations funded by pharmaceutical companies, such as the Alliance for Safe Online Pharmacies and Partnership for Safe Medicines. As I see it, their public education efforts conflate safe online sales of medicines imported by consumers in the U.S. with counterfeit drug sales and other forms of drug sales, ones that clearly harm patients. One such article that did not fall prey to the propaganda was published in Kaiser Health News’ California Healthline detailing street market sales of prescription drugs, including cases that involve counterfeit drugs and the dangers they pose. Journalists who are looking closely, checking the funding of organizations disseminating information about prescription drug importation, can help stop the propaganda of the pharmaceutical industry.
The Kaiser story, written by John M. Glionna, focuses on Latino immigrant communities in which people can’t afford medication or, due to their immigration status, are fearful of deportation if they go to federally-funded clinics for medical treatments. Eight people were arrested and charged with illegal street sales of prescription drugs, including injectables and controlled drugs. Glionna describes the LA County authorities report:
“Their haul included 100,000 foreign-made pills, compounds and injectable medicines they said could have caused serious harm or even death to consumers.”
Some of the drugs were real, as in lawfully-manufactured medicine brought in from Mexico and parts of Central America. Some were expired. While it wasn’t clear at all how many, the article states that some were “sheer counterfeits.”
The safety issues here are clear as day. Medications must be stored properly in a pharmacy setting and dispensed by licensed professionals. These street sales of drugs, such as the antibiotic ciprofloxacin, were clearly not stored properly and sold without a prescription by people with no medical training. And that’s for legitimate medications. Counterfeit drugs, while they might contain the proper active pharmaceutical ingredients, present serious and immediate health risks to patients.
Unlike many of the pharma-planted media stories, this one distinguished safe personal drug importation from prescription drug sales outside of grocery stores, swap meets, and beauty salons:
“These dubious products targeted by law enforcement are different from the legitimate prescription pharmaceuticals imported for personal use every year by millions of U.S. residents who cross the border into Canada and Mexico or use licensed online pharmacies abroad to buy their medications at a fraction of the price they would pay in this country.”
For me, the takeaway of this story is that high drug prices and lack of access to medical care drive the market for counterfeit and dangerous street and online drug sales. Lowering drug prices and making sure people have access to medical care would greatly curtail the incentive for criminals to make counterfeit drugs in the first place, or to sell expired or adulterated medicines on street corners.
It’s not lost on me that the Spanish-speaking immigrants who are the main targets of these street sales could greatly benefit from safe international online pharmacies if U.S. pharmacy prices are forcing them to buy medicines on the street. We have a Spanish version of PharmacyChecker.com where they can find the safest international options. We also have staff who can answer questions in Spanish that can help.Tagged with: Immigration, John M. Glionna, kaiser health news, Spanish