Counterfeit Drugs Can Kill!
Reported February 2007
PHILADELPHIA (Ivanhoe Broadcast News) -- Imagine taking a drug that was supposed to keep you alive, only to have it almost kill you. That happened to one man, and it could happen to you. Estimates are that up to 10 percent of all drugs in the world are fake. But companies are now creating special detection tools to stop it.
Five years ago, Tim Fagan had an emergency liver transplant. But the real nightmare began when he started taking his anti-anemia medicine. Tim's dad, Kevin, says, "Several hours after the first injection, Tim woke up with violent pains. He was screaming."
Tim's doctors couldn't find what was wrong. For eight weeks, it happened after each injection.
"I was absolutely scared for my son's life," Kevin tells Ivanhoe.
It turned out the drug from the pharmacy was counterfeit. Fake packaging disguised the fact that it was 20-times less than Tim's required dose.
Immunochemist Jim Rittenburg, Ph.D., says drug counterfeiting is a growing problem, especially because of drugs sold on the Internet.
"The Internet is totally uncontrolled, and it's still a lot like the Wild West," Dr. Rittenburg, of the brand protection company Authentix in Philadelphia, tells Ivanhoe. "There are no controls, and you don't know where the product is coming from."
That's why he's working to stay one step ahead of the counterfeiters by putting nanotechnology "fingerprints" into products. The device detects if a drug's seal has been tampered with. For drug packaging, tiny markers are mixed with inks or coatings that change color, indicating the real thing.
Drug containers can also be verified by shining an ultraviolet ray highlighting these markers. For individual pills, the markers are inserted into each pill and confirmed using a test similar to a home pregnancy test that can detect if it's a fake.
"I don't think we'll ever get rid of the counterfeiters -- they'll just move from one thing to another -- but we can make it a lot more difficult," Dr. Rittenburg says.
Tim's dad is taking matters into is own hands by working with lawmakers to enact "Tim Fagan's Law" and keep what happened to his son from happening to you.
Ways to protect yourself: Be careful buying drugs off the internet. Instead, get your meds from a legitimate pharmacist. Pay attention to how the drug looks, smells and tastes. If it seems different than usual, let the pharmacist or manufacturer know.
The American Society for Microbiology contributed to the information contained in the TV portion of this report.
Click here to Go Inside This Science or contact:
Public Information Officer
American Society for Microbiology
Washington, DC 20036-2904
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