03/23/2012 - The last thing a cancer patient should have to worry about is whether lifesaving drugs administered at a hospital are real or counterfeit.
While an individual's chance of getting fake medications is small, the unfortunate truth is that the risk is real and that the United States is underequipped to combat what experts agree is an emerging public health threat: drugs whose potency is compromised by theft or fraudulent wholesalers and manufacturers.
Just last month came confirmation that counterfeit doses of the critical cancer drug Avastin have been distributed in the United States. Authorities also aren't able to account for most of the 129,000 vials of insulin stolen in 2009 when thieves drove off with a truckload of this crucial diabetes treatment, which needs to be refrigerated. They do know that some of the insulin went through licensed wholesalers in at least two states and into retail drug stores.
"The United States lacks strong, uniform national standards for licensure of pharmaceutical wholesalers, and we lack a standard system for companies to keep track of our pharmaceuticals during distribution,'' said Allan Coukell, the Pew Health Group's medical director, at a March 8 congressional hearing. "There is currently no way to check whether an individual vial or bottle is authentic or counterfeit.''
Read the full editorial, Crack Down on Counterfeit Drugs, on the Minneapolis Star Tribune's website.