Friday, December 17, 2010

Counterfeit Drugs 4: Drugs Can Kill

(Note: this is my article yesterday at

Drugs and medicines are among the highly emotional and political commodities in any society because they are associated with people’s health, People almost always look at drugs as compounds or substances that can heal or cure them from their illness. Thus, the endless political intrusion in drug pricing, trading and manufacturing in many countries.

But do many people realize that while drugs can heal, drugs can also kill?

There are many ways that drugs can kill, directly or indirectly.

One is when patients take counterfeit or substandard medicines. The counterfeits are those that do not contain the necessary ingredients and hence, cannot deliver the substances to control or kill a particular disease. Substandard drugs are those that contain the sufficient ingredients but at insufficient amount, usually below 80 percent of the required active pharmaceutical ingredients. When patients take these drugs, the virus, bacteria, or other disease molecules in their body either multiply or evolve to something more serious or more deadly. As days pass by, either the patient does not get well, or becomes even more sickly.

Two is when patients take the correct, non-fake, and manufactured at good standard drugs, but mis-stored and mis-handled, reducing their efficacy and safety. For instance, drugs that should be stored at 20 to 30 deg. C at all times, when brought to a place at 31 C or warmer for an extended period of time, will lose their full efficacy and safety. These drugs may deliver the same negative result as taking the fake or substandard ones.

Three is when there is irrational drug use. When patients self-medicate and take just any drugs that they heard from other people or saw in tv or billboard advertising, without professional supervision by a pharmacist or a physician. This case happens more often if drugs are given away for free or are sold cheaply. So patients may take the wrong drugs, or the right drugs but at the wrong dosage, and so on.

Four is when patients take expired drugs and hence, have almost zero efficacy and are unsafe. These drugs may be in some cabinet in the house for a long time, or given away for free by some local government units but the drugs are not well-supervised and monitored by professional pharmacists. There have been reports where useful drugs, expired drugs, cockroach, garbage and other dirty materials are mixed up in one room with no temperature control by some municipal or city or provincial pharmacies.

Five is when patients take drugs that are well-stored, well-handled, produced at good manufacturing practices, but were developed in other countries and continents. The various clinical trials have been conducted on people from the tropics or poorer countries in the temperate zones, the trials produced good results, but may have harmful results on patients in the northern hemisphere and richer countries. This is a tricky subject, and there is a long discussion about this at Deadly Medicines. I suggest that readers visit that article.

There should be other factors that can contribute to “drugs can kill” cases. That phrase actually came from a Filipino pharmacist friend who emphasized the importance of professional supervision by trained pharmacists and physicians when people are sick.

So the next time we are sick, we should not take just any drugs that we heard from friends or we saw on tv or newspaper or billboard ads. Perhaps we may not need drugs at all, perhaps we may need only more rest, more water, and less or zero undesirable food and drinks that can trigger some adverse health results in our body. Seeking health professionals’ advice and maintaining healthy lifestyle will produce better health outcome, than just taking any drugs, even if these drugs are priced very low or given away for free.

See also:
Counterfeit Drugs 1: On the Growing Fake Drugs Worldwide, December 21, 2007
Counterfeit Drugs 2: IPN Report on Fake Drugs in Poor Countries, May 29, 2009
Counterfeit Drugs 3: The SCLD, RA 8203, June 04, 2009

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