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Healthy Skepticism Library item: 19580

Warning: This library includes all items relevant to health product marketing that we are aware of regardless of quality. Often we do not agree with all or part of the contents.


Publication type: news

Dickinson A
Queenslanders put lives on line by ordering dangerous counterfeit drugs over the internet
The Courier-Mail 2011 May 9

Full text:

In many cases, the drugs marketed using commercial branding are counterfeit. The medicines range from lifestyle drugs, such as weight-loss pills and Viagra, to more potent opiates.

In the vast majority of cases, people are using the net to circumvent the prescription process or to cut costs.

Figures obtained by The Courier-Mail show Customs stopped 288 packages containing counterfeit drugs in the 12 months to April up from 43 packages for the same period the year before.

In the past three years Customs has sent three packages a week to the Therapeutic Goods Administration for investigation.

►Audio: Tim Logan, Queensland Branch President of the Pharmacy Guild of Australia, speaks about the problem
Small quantities for personal use usually result in a warning. But large-scale importers risk up to seven years’ jail and $550,000 in fines.

The World Health Organisation warns counterfeit drugs can be deadly. US authorities have estimated global sales hit $75 billion last year.

Pharmacy Guild of Australia’s Queensland president Tim Logan said buying drugs from overseas was “absolutely fraught”.

“People should treat overseas websites (offering medication) with extreme caution,” Mr Logan said. “There is that temptation if they’re embarrassed or it’s expensive here but it’s … not worth the risks.”

The TGA said while it ensured medicines bought through local suppliers were safe, the same assurance could not be given for medicines sourced from overseas via the internet.

“The large majority of incidents involving counterfeit medicines are … normally small quantities by parcel posts from overseas internet sites,” a TGA spokesman said.

The number of Australians illegally importing bona fide prescription drugs, including Valium and Aderall, without prescriptions also is believed to be on the rise.

Websites visited by The Courier-Mail offered free shipping to Australia of everything from the anti-depressant Prozac to dextroamphetamine, used in the treatment of ADHD and narcolepsy. Buying both drugs requires a prescription under Australian law.

Despite carrying penalties of up to $110,000, neither Customs nor the TGA compile figures on breaches.

A Customs and Border Protection spokesman said the authority “does not routinely compile total figures for all drugs and therapeutic substances seized”.

“Many medications and pharmaceuticals are referred to the Therapeutic Goods Administration for determination and further action,” he said.

“For example, Viagra is a prescription-only medication under state controls and may be seized by Customs under the direction of the TGA.”

But the TGA spokesman said: “The TGA is not aware of how many prescription medicines are imported as it is not illegal.”

Mr Logan said it was unclear what the Government’s customs processes were when it came to prescription drugs.


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Email a Friend influence multinational corporations effectively, the efforts of governments will have to be complemented by others, notably the many voluntary organisations that have shown they can effectively represent society’s public-health interests…
A small group known as Healthy Skepticism; formerly the Medical Lobby for Appropriate Marketing) has consistently and insistently drawn the attention of producers to promotional malpractice, calling for (and often securing) correction. These organisations [Healthy Skepticism, Médecins Sans Frontières and Health Action International] are small, but they are capable; they bear malice towards no one, and they are inscrutably honest. If industry is indeed persuaded to face up to its social responsibilities in the coming years it may well be because of these associations and others like them.
- Dukes MN. Accountability of the pharmaceutical industry. Lancet. 2002 Nov 23; 360(9346)1682-4.