Bad Drugs at a Pharmacy near You

Article excerpt


The FDA believes it has discovered the contaminant in the blood-thinning drug heparin that has caused hundreds of allergic reactions and 19 deaths. It appears to be a cheap, plentiful substance that is made from animal cartilage. Mimicking heparin in chemical tests and falsely giving the impression of larger amounts of the drug, it was added in China, a common source of crude heparin precursors.

This adulteration of heparin is reminiscent of two other recent, widely publicized, lethal examples of intentional tampering with Chinese food or drug ingredients intended for export. One was the contamination last year of dog food by a substance called melamine, which was deliberately added to an ingredient in pet food that sickened and killed cats and dogs across the United States and in other parts of the world. It was added to fake higher protein levels in the final product. Also last year, lethal Chinese-made diethylene glycol, mislabeled as non-toxic glycerin, was mixed into anti-fever medicines for children, killing at least 100 in Panama.

These incidents are only the tip of a very dangerous iceberg. It's a bitter pill to swallow, but you can no longer be sure what will actually be in your next medicine vial.

It is thought that 10-15 percent of the world's drug supply (and approximately half that much in the United States, according to a 2003 World Health Organization estimate) is counterfeit. The FDA has increased the number of its investigations of domestic counterfeiting (which can involve ingredients from abroad) several-fold during the past decade.) These incidents encompass not only products that are completely fake, but also those that have been tampered with, contaminated, diluted, repackaged or mislabeled in a way that misrepresents the contents, dosage, origin or expiration date. Spurious ingredients have included cement, gypsum, talcum powder, sawdust, industrial solvents and even yellow highway paint.

The perpetrators include not only greedy businessmen trying to increase their profit margins but also big-time organized crime entities, such as the Russian mafia, Chinese triads and Columbian drug cartels, as well as terrorist groups such as Hezbollah, the Irish Republican Army and Spain's separatist organization ETA. They are adept at duplicating the appearance of pills and capsules and even the security measures on the packaging, including serial numbers on the blister packs and holograms. …