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Counterfeit drug


A counterfeit drug or a counterfeit medicine is a medication which is produced and sold with the intent to deceptively represent its origin, authenticity or effectiveness. The common street term for counterfeit drug is "beat bag". A counterfeit drug may be one which does not contain active ingredients, contains an insufficient quantity of active ingredients, or contains entirely incorrect active ingredients (which may or may not be harmful), and which is typically sold with inaccurate, incorrect, or fake packaging. Fake medicines and generic drugs which are deliberately mislabeled in order to deceive consumers are therefore counterfeit, while a drug which has not received regulatory approval is not necessarily so.


Counterfeit drugs can generally be classified by the following characteristics:

  • re-labeled drugs that were previously expired, defective or otherwise deemed unfit for use;
  • re-labeled drugs wherein the active ingredient is fraudulently diluted;
  • re-labeled drugs wherein the active ingredient is adulterated;
  • re-labeled drugs wherein the active ingredient is substituted;
  • falsely-labeled substances of any composition wherein the active ingredient is completely misrepresented; and
  • falsely-labeled substances whose combined active ingredients meet one or more of the preceding criteria.[1]

An individual who applies a counterfeit medication may experience a number of dangerous consequences to their health, such as unexpected side effects, allergic reactions, or a worsening of their medical condition. A number of counterfeits do not contain any active ingredients, and instead contain inert substances, which do not provide the patient any treatment benefits. Counterfeit medications may also contain incorrect ingredients, improper dosages of the correct ingredients, or they may contain hazardous ingredients.

The extent of the problem of counterfeit drugs is unknown. Counterfeiting is difficult to detect, investigate, and quantify. So, it is hard to know or even estimate the true extent of the problem. What is known is that they occur worldwide and are more prevalent in developing countries. It is estimated that upwards of 10% of drugs worldwide are counterfeit, and in some countries more than 50% of the drug supply is made up of counterfeit drugs. Furthermore, the World Health Organization estimates that the annual earnings of counterfeit drugs are over US$32 billion [2].

There are several technologies that may prove helpful in combating this problem, such as radio frequency identification which uses electronic devices to track and identify items, such as pharmaceutical products, by assigning individual serial numbers to the containers holding each product. The FDA is working towards an Electronic pedigree (ePedigree) system to track drugs from factory to pharmacy. This technology may prevent the diversion or counterfeiting of drugs by allowing wholesalers and pharmacists to determine the identity and dosage of individual products.

Some techniques, such as Raman spectroscopy and Energy Dispersive X-Ray Diffraction (EDXRD)[3] can be used to discover counterfeit drugs while still inside their packaging. [1]

Chinese counterfeit drugs

Many counterfeit drugs sold in the Third World or on the Internet originate in China. The State Food and Drug Administration is not responsible for regulating pharmaceutical ingredients manufactured and exported by chemical companies. This regulatory hole, which has resulted in considerable international news coverage unfavorable to China, has been known for a decade, but failure of Chinese regulatory agencies to cooperate has prevented effective regulation.[4]

On May 6, 2005, the Chinese press agency Xinhua reported that the World Health Organization had established Rapid Alert System (RAS), the world's first web-based system for tracking the activities of drug cheats, in light of the increasing severity of the problem of counterfeit drugs.

Counterfeit drugs in India

According to latest figures released by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), contrary to popular notions, India emerges as the biggest culprit in fake drug manufacture. According to this report 75 per cent of fake drugs supplied world over have their origins in India, followed by 7 per cent from Egypt and 6 per cent from China. [5]

Bacterial Resistance

Fake antibiotics with a low concentration of the active ingredients can do damage world wide. Courses of antibiotics that aren't seen through to completion allow bacteria to regroup and develop resistance.


The BBC, along with many other news outlets, reported on a Nigerian woman, Dr. Dora Akunyili, who has been appointed to deal with the problem of fake drugs [6]. According to these reports, many of the fake drugs came from the same countries that make normal drugs, especially China and India. In the case of India, while it is against the law to make fake drugs for domestic use, it is not against the law to make fake drugs for export.

See also

  • Regulation of therapeutic goods
  • NAFDAC - Nigerian organization opposing rampant drug counterfeiting.
  • Gentamicin — example of a drug with drastic health consequences if not appropriately prescribed[citation needed], or unknowlingly prescribed in counterfeit form[citation needed].
  • Robert Courtney — American pharmacist who dispensed diluted cancer drugs between 1991 and 2001.
  • Counterfeit


  1. ^ BBC Two "Bad Medicine" broadcast on Tuesday 2005 July 12.
  2. ^
  3. ^ Williams, J: "Healthcare Distributor", page 81. E.L.F. Publications, Inc., December 2006/January 2007
  4. ^ "Chinese Chemicals Flow Unchecked to World Drug Market" article reported by Walt Bogdanich, Jake Hooker and Andrew W. Lehren and written by Mr. Bogdanich in the New York Times October 31, 2007
  5. ^
  6. ^ One woman's war with fake drugs. (2005). Retrieved on April 10, 2006, from
  • New Scientist - September 9, 2006
This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Counterfeit_drug". A list of authors is available in Wikipedia.
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