Counterfeit drugs are dangerous. They may include products without active ingredients, with incorrect quantities of active ingredients, wrong ingredients, correct quantities of active ingredients but with fake packaging, or high levels of impurities and contaminants. Examples of harmful ingredients found in counterfeit drugs include arsenic, boric acid, brick dust, cement powder, chalk dust, floor polish, leaded road paint, nickel, shoe polish (to produce the sheen on the tablet) and talcum powder. They may also be illegal copies of an original product.
Counterfeit drugs pose public health risks because they are often manufactured illegally in unsanitary and unsafe conditions, their sources are unknown, and their contents are unreliable.
Contrary to the marketing efforts of counterfeiters, counterfeit drugs are not “generic” versions of branded medicines. Generic medicines are approved by government regulators while counterfeits are not. Both branded and generic medicines can be counterfeit. These include medicines that treat viruses, infections, diabetes, mental illness, heart disease, and erectile dysfunction (ED), among others.
Counterfeiting is a big business for criminals. Counterfeit drug sales generated an estimated $75 billion USD in 2010. Counterfeiters are criminals who operate globally, flourish in both developed and developing countries, and have little regard for public health and safety. Many counterfeiters employ sophisticated printing and packaging operations, while manufacturing products in filthy conditions. Counterfeiting involves a global network of producers, distributors and sellers.