A British-led investigation has resulted in the arrests of 237 people worldwide and the seizures of more than $32 million in counterfeit medicines. These medications, officials say, could have harmed the thousands or millions of people they were intended for. And while the conditions they were seized from were far from clinically-safe, one has to wonder why safety officials aren’t as concerned about the dangers of legal prescriptions doled out daily in the global market.
Reuters reports the 10-day crackdown resulted in the confiscation of 8.4 million doses of drugs—things like weight loss and anti-impotence drugs, anabolic steroids, and sleep aids. The estimated value of these drugs was $31.4 million.
The effort raided manufacturing facilities and over 10,000 websites.
“The medicines recovered during these raids were being held in appalling conditions, such as a dirty old building with broken windows, with medicines lying on the floor in bin bags,” said Alastair Jeffrey of Britain’s Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), the equivalent of the U.S. FDA.
Obviously, medications in dirty old buildings aren’t high on many people’s drugstore lists, but one has to wonder what these drugs were made of and if patients who received them would have known any different.
The prescription drug market, even the legal one, is wrought with unpleasant side effects, accidental overdoses, and product recalls. One-hundred people in the U.S. die every day from drug overdoses, most of them prescriptions.
This figure is startling, but doesn’t even account for those who followed dosage instructions and still died, or suffered injuries. It doesn’t account for the patients who were prescribed two drugs with potentially lethal interactions, or those who didn’t know they were allergic to a drug until they took it and suffered the consequences.
Counterfeit drugs are bad, yes, but if the pharmaceutical industry wasn’t robbing people of their income and their health, many of these counterfeit drugs wouldn’t exist.
The system we currently live under has created a nation of illness, where the need for medication is created through a broken food system, and pharmaceutical companies are there to answer the call. The government, through processes like 510(k) clearance, speed potentially dangerous drugs through the system and straight to your pharmacy. And then they wash their hands as you, the patient, put your trust in the magic elixirs.
Even if the drugs are safe, they can make you sick. More than 1.5 million Americans are “sickened, injured or killed” annually by prescription drug errors—errors in dosing, dispensing, prescribing and taking. In hospitals, they are so common that each and every patient will likely experience at least one prescription drug error during their stay. Not only that, but countless of people are killed every year by properly-prescribed drugs.
So, yeah, it’s nice that there are fewer counterfeit drugs on the black market, but when do officials plan on cracking down on Big Pharma?