The worldwide market for counterfeit drugs sold online is projected to reach $75 billion this year, a 92 percent increase over the past five years. The biggest sellers: fake drugs for erectile dysfunction (ED), which are especially popular because many men are embarrassed to discuss sexual problems with their physicians and because the genuine pharmaceuticals are costly. A study published online in January, 2010, by the International Journal of Clinical Practice estimated that as many 2.5 million men in the European Union alone may be using counterfeit Viagra, some of which can be harmful, even deadly. The researchers found that 150 patients had been admitted to hospitals in Singapore and four died after taking fake Cialis and herbal preparations sold as ED cures. The "Cialis" contained a powerful drug for diabetes.
Fake ED drugs aren't the only problems: in Argentina two pregnant women died after injections of a counterfeit treatment for anemia; in Bangladesh, 51 children died of kidney failure after taking paracetamol (acetaminophen) contaminated with anti-freeze. Some fake Viagra contained amphetamine or caffeine and bulk lactose or was colored blue with printer ink. A "vaccine" for life-threatening meningitis was found to be only water. Other fakes included antibiotics, contraceptives and anti-malarial pills.
My take? Aside from this additional evidence of over-reliance on drugs to solve real or perceived health problems, this is a disturbing trend. Not only does it pose the threat of ingesting harmful ingredients, but presents the danger that by circumventing your physician to buy drugs you think you need, any underlying, undiagnosed medical problem you may have would be missed, potentially putting you at additional risk.