Nurses Join Fight Against Counterfeit Medicines


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“Fight the Fakes” is a scary article in the June issue of AJN about counterfeit medicines and the role the International Council of Nurses (ICN) has taken in the Fight the Fakes campaign to inform the public about just how common the problem is and how dangerous it can be. Here’s the opening paragraph:

In February 2012, a cocktail of salt, starch, acetone, and a variety of other chemicals was delivered to 19 U.S. cancer clinics, instead of a vital chemotherapy medication they were expecting. Earlier this year, the Daily Mirror reported on black market abortion tablets that are being sold online to young teenage girls too scared to tell their parents they’re pregnant. The pills can kill if the wrong dose is taken.

The article is by David Benton, chief executive officer of the ICN, and Lindsey Williamson, the organization’s publications director and communications officer. Below is a brief blog post they sent us to give readers an idea of what’s at stake—but we hope you’ll also go ahead and read their article, which raises issues that should concern us all as patients or health care professionals.—JM, senior editor

Fake medicines are a global problem: they are reported in virtually every region of the world. Fake medicines may include products with the wrong ingredients, without active ingredients, with insufficient quantities of active ingredients, or with fake packaging. How common are fake medicines? The problem of counterfeit drugs is known to exist in both developed and developing countries. However, the true extent of the problem is not really known, since no global study has been carried out. Counterfeiting of medicines can apply to both branded and generic drugs, prescription and over-the-counter medicines, as well as to traditional remedies.

Counterfeit medicines are unsafe and ineffective, fail to treat or prevent the intended disease, and can even cause harm to the patient. Counterfeit medicines result in wasted resources spent on purchasing, inventory, transport, and dispensing, either producing little or none of a drug’s expected effect or disastrous patient outcomes such as poisoning, disability, and death. Counterfeit medicines are among the main cause of antimicrobial resistance in infectious diseases such as tuberculosis. For example, counterfeit antimicrobials can turn a tuberculosis case that could be cured in three months at a cost of $11 into a multidrug–resistant tuberculosis that takes two years to treat and requires medications over 100 times more expensive than the first-line drugs used to treat nonresistant forms.

So, what can we do to ensure medical products are safe?

Be observant. If there is anything unusual about a medical product and packaging, tell your health care professional.
Evaluate. If your medical product has an unexpected effect or no effect, consider counterfeits as a possible reason.
Acknowledge. Tell your health professional what effect the medical product had on you.
Where. Tell your health professional where the medical product was bought, particularly if it was from a market, over the internet, or in the street.
Actively inform your health professional and other patients who might have received the medical product about your experience.
Report the suspected counterfeit to your health professional.
Educate your friends and family about the risk of counterfeit medical products.

And finally, join the Fight the Fakes campaign and share your story with others.

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2016-11-21T13:04:37+00:00 May 30th, 2014|nursing perspective|2 Comments

About the Author:

Senior editor/social media strategy, American Journal of Nursing, and editor of AJN Off the Charts.


  1. Corin Alcorn November 23, 2014 at 10:03 pm

    The article is scary indeed. I was not aware of the February 2012 incident, nor was I aware of the number of medical practices in the U.S. purchasing medications from unlicensed suppliers. It is one thing, as a consumer, to purchase medications from the internet and understand that there is risk involved, but a whole other to be receiving fake medications from your own doctor who you know and trust. This reminds us of how important it is for nurses to be well-informed and to make sure our patients are well-informed. If you go to the full article, there is a link to a counterfeit medicines tool kit released by the ICN. It has a great checklist to use when examining medication, valuable to both nurses and consumers.

  2. Lilia F. Bruce June 17, 2014 at 1:01 am

    Yes, we as nurses should be vigilant in this counterfeit medicines. We should be very critical in preparing and administering medications. Report once you observed something that is different or unusual feature in the medicine. LILIAFBRUCE, RN. Nursing Director-World Citi Medical Center Philippines

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