Seniors looking to save money on pharmaceuticals may be receiving dangerous counterfeit medicines

In recent years, Big Pharma has come under fire for steadily rising prescription medication prices.

Value-based pricing on medications considered indispensable by health workers and the World Health Organization mean the sky’s the limit on prescription drugs that may in reality cost only a small fraction of the price tag to manufacture.

But how much can a drug-maker charge for a medicine a consumer quite literally can’t live without?

Often, the answer is far more than many of those on a fixed income can sustainably afford–especially as the cost of living rises, COLAs stagnate, and new health concerns pop up with time.

These challenges lead many seniors to seek out vital medications via non-traditional sources promising the same quality product for extremely reasonable prices.

Sadly, it’s often the case these “pharmacies” can offer such amazing deals on brand name prescriptions because what they’re selling contains only a small amount of the active ingredient. Or what they’re selling isn’t the medicine at all.

Welcome to the wide world of counterfeit pharmaceuticals and fake pharmacies. Just search for any medication online and you’re sure to see page after page of online pharmacies offering that medicine for cut-rate pricing.

But according to, only 3% of the pharmacies you’ll find online are legitimate.

You may find one of these bogus pharmacies searching around online yourself or they may send you an email advertising a few name brand drugs for incredibly cheap to entice you.

Once you’ve navigated to their site, they may boast their certifications, their licensed pharmacists, access to “international drugs,” or the ability to provide drugs without a prescription or write the prescription via live chat with a doctor.

But all of these “bonuses” should look more like red flags:

  • Certifications? In the U.S., if they aren’t certified by the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy? They aren’t certified at all.
  • Licensed pharmacist? What license? And for that matter, many of these “pharmacies” claim to be Canadian. In Canada, it’s illegal for a pharmacist to prescribe a medication to a foreigner. This is something a licensed pharmacist certainly would never do.
  • “International drugs” means drugs the FDA hasn’t approved. These are potentially dangerous and definitely unpredictable. Steer clear.
  • No doctor who wants to keep his license to practice medicine will prescribe medication to a patient he hasn’t examined. Live chat does NOT constitute an exam. Similarly, would you trust a pharmacist who fills prescriptions without the prescription? Probably not.

In reality, this pharmacy is not a pharmacy. The doctors aren’t doctors. And the pharmacist is not a pharmacist. In all likelihood, the drug you’re about to pay for isn’t the drug you think it is.

Counterfeit medicine manufacturers often operate in clandestine and unsterile conditions. The people making the drugs have absolutely no training in biology, chemistry, or healthcare of any kind. Their ingredients may be somewhat like those in the legitimate medication–there might be a fraction of the actual active ingredient in the dupe–or it will be a total knock-off.

In these latter cases, the pill you take can be a total placebo, or worse still, a cocktail of potentially harmful ingredients mixed together by an amateur and prescribed to a patient with absolutely no knowledge of her medical history.

The ramifications can be horrific. Suppose in an effort to be thriftier with her benefits during retirement, someone turns to these pharmacies for crucial heart medication. Weeks after taking what was promised to be a quality medication, her condition worsens. It then turns out later she was taking a fake pill and her heart condition went totally untreated.

The FDA warns of the over 10,000 pharmacies online advertising cheap medicine, just over 9,700 are operating illegally. They’ve officially deemed fake pharmacies and counterfeit drugs a serious health threat:

“Buying medicines from rogue online pharmacies can be risky because they may sell fake, expired, contaminated, not approved by FDA, or otherwise unsafe products that are dangerous to patients,” FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg, MD, said.

And the fake pharmaceutical racket is showing zero signs of stopping.

For your own safety, don’t respond to emails and advertisements offering cheap medications online. Always acquire your prescription medications via a trusted healthcare professional after you’ve consulted a doctor face-to-face.

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