General Health
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    How to Spot Fake Medication: Staying Safe When Buying Medicine Online

    In today's digital age, the convenience of purchasing medications online has grown significantly. However, with this convenience comes the risk of encountering counterfeit drugs. In this article, we will delve into the world of counterfeit medications, addressing key questions such as what they are, the potential dangers they pose, their prevalence in the market, recent notable examples making headlines, techniques to identify and report them, and finally, how UK Meds ensure the supply of authentic medications. Understanding how to spot fake medication is crucial for safeguarding your health and well-being when purchasing medicine online.

    A magnifying glass looking at a packet of medicine

    What is a counterfeit drug?

    A counterfeit drug is a medication produced by an entity other than the legitimate manufacturer, often through replication or imitation of the original product without proper authorisation or rights, according to the European Medicines Agency. These counterfeit medicines violate trademark laws and are typically manufactured by unauthorised parties.

    Are counterfeit medications really dangerous?

    Counterfeit medications pose a significant danger. Although low- and middle-income countries bear a higher risk, no nation remains untouched. The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that one in ten medical products in low-to-mid-income regions are either fake or sub-standard. The consequences of counterfeit drugs are tragic, with an estimated 250,000 children dying annually due to fake malaria and pneumonia medications alone (Evans & Jarvis, 2020).

    As online purchasing of medication becomes increasingly popular, unfortunately, so does the prevalence of counterfeit medications. These fake medications can be harmful if consumed as they have not been approved by the relevant authorities. Fake antibiotics, for instance, often contain incorrect antibiotics or inadequate doses, which can lead to antibiotic resistance which may affect you in the future.

    How prevalent are fake medications online?

    The prevalence of counterfeit medications sold online is alarmingly high, with approximately 50% of drugs sold via the internet being fake, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO). These statistics are deeply concerning for pharmaceutical companies, governments, patients, and online providers like UK Meds which only supply genuine medications. A survey among physicians in the UK revealed that 25% of patients who reported experiencing adverse effects from a drug had purchased it from an online pharmacy (Pathak et al, 2023)

    Unfortunately, this can breed mistrust between genuine suppliers like UK Meds and patients. At UK Meds, you can rest assured that all of the medications you purchase are genuine and are sourced from reputable suppliers. 

    Are there any recent examples of fake medications being covered in the media?

    Yes, in the last few years, there have been several instances of fake medications being covered by the media. Some examples include:

    • Record amount of fake Viagra seized - Reported by BBC in 2016, authorities in the UK seized more unlicensed erectile dysfunction drugs than ever before, worth over £11 million.

    • Ozempic and Wegovy Fakes Wreak Havoc: How to Stay Safe - WebMD reported on counterfeit versions of the drug semaglutide, marketed as Wegovy for weight loss and as Ozempic for type 2 diabetes, flooding North American and global markets.

    • Novo Nordisk tackles harm from Ozempic fakes with global authorities - In 2024, Reuters covered Novo Nordisk's efforts to collaborate with authorities in various countries to address counterfeit versions of its diabetes drug Ozempic, following reports of patient harm worldwide.

    • MHRA warns of unsafe fake weight loss pens - A warning issued by the UK's Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) in 2023 highlighted the discovery of fake and potentially harmful Ozempic and Saxenda pens in the UK, emphasising the importance of obtaining these medicines only via a medical prescription.

    Most recently, the issue of counterfeit weight loss and diabetes injections has come to the forefront. You can purchase genuine weight loss medications such as Wegovy, Saxenda and Mounjaro online from UK Meds that are provided with a free private prescription. You can also purchase diabetes injection pens like Ozempic from UK Meds with a free private prescription.

    How to spot counterfeit medication?

    Spotting counterfeit medication is vital to ensure that you remain safe and effectively treat the condition you have. Here are some tips you can use to spot potentially counterfeit medications. 

    • Simple Checks: Medication manufacturer Pfizer provided recommendations for simple checks you can complete when you receive medication you think may be counterfeit. They say to check for spelling errors, medication appearance such as size, shape and colour that seems odd, the quality of the medication itself in terms of cracks in tablets, bubbled coatings or crumbling, and packaging that looks like it has been tampered with or compromised.

    Business Standard has put together a helpful video summarising the simple checks that customers can look out for that may or may not be present to help identify fake medicines:

    • Laboratory testing: One of the most effective ways counterfeit medications are caught is by laboratory testing. The University of Oxford says that the detection of counterfeit medications often begins with customs officials using intelligence or random checks on medications that will be sent to be tested. Another way you can check at home is by using SMS texting systems. Some companies encourage customers to text a number with a code found on the packaging to verify authenticity. 

    In the video below by BBC What's New, Dr Bahijja Raimi-Abraham explains how to tell the difference between fake and real antimalarial drugs:

    • New technology: Advances in technology can also help to spot counterfeit medications. Blockchain technology enables pharmaceutical companies to track genuine medications from manufacturer to delivery. The development of smart packaging also helps prevent the spread of counterfeit medications as consumers will be able to spot genuine packaging and fake packaging easier. 

    Inventors are creating new technology to spot fake medicines. In the video below by BBC World Service, Adebayo Alonge, explains how a new device that he's created can spot fake drugs:

    • Use a reputable provider: You need to be careful about the provider you choose when you are purchasing medication online. You should fully research the provider before purchasing, ensuring that they mention they only supply genuine medications. UK Meds is a reputable online provider of genuine medications.

    Are medicines more likely to be counterfeit if they have instructions and labels that are in a foreign language?

    No, according to the MHRA and the Royal Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain, many legitimate medications are sourced from outside of the UK and may contain instructions on labels that are in a foreign language. If you notice that your medication has labels or leaflets that are in a language other than English that does not mean that it is counterfeit. 

    Where can you report a suspected fake medication?

    To report a suspected fake medication, you can use the Yellow Card reporting site provided by the MHRA. This site allows you to, “report suspected side effects to medicines, vaccines, e-cigarettes, medical device incidents, defective or falsified (fake) products to the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency.” Your report can help authorities identify and address potential risks associated with counterfeit or falsified products.

    How do UK Meds ensure that the medication that you receive is legitimate?

    UK Meds ensure that we only provide our customers with completely legitimate medications. All of our medications are 100% genuine and sourced from reputable pharmacies. Our process ensures that only people who need the medication can purchase it. To purchase medication from UK Meds you need to complete an online consultation that, if approved, provides you with a free private prescription that allows you to buy your medication. 

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