How to avoid a cancer patient buying counterfeit drugs
Margaryta Ognivenko, the Head of the department of hospital drugs, MSD Ukraine
The COVID-19 pandemic has adjusted the health services and treatment provision worldwide. But there can be no stopping for patients with cancer ― every week or two delays can cost progress in fighting the disease.
Some patients used to be able to have a further course of therapy in another country, where there is a special lower price for the drug prescribed to them. Due to the closure of borders, they found themselves in a vulnerable position, as they have to organize their further treatment almost from scratch in Ukraine.
Therefore, it gives more opportunities than before for dishonest suppliers who allegedly offer drugs at a cheaper price that are imported from other countries. However, it is important to remember that it is very dangerous to buy drugs that are only available with a doctor's prescription or that require special storage conditions on the Internet. As well as to buy any medicines from other people or by the announcement.
Let us start with a specific example. Last year we, at MSD Ukraine, learned about several cases of falsification of our product that is used in oncology and the sale of the falsified drug to Ukrainian patients.
First, the company immediately reported the case to the law enforcement, prosecutors and regulatory authorities of the Ministry of Health. I want to mention that we appreciate the on-the-spot response and efforts of the law enforcement agencies in order to protect Ukrainian patients from dangerous counterfeit products.
Second, as a manufacturer, we have also informed the doctors and the medical community that there are counterfeit or illegally imported drugs in our market. And about how dangerous they can be for patients to use.
In this case, the counterfeit product was tested in our laboratories and we found out that it did not contain any active substance. This means that patients would not benefit from its use. And their cancer could potentially progress just as it would in the absence of any treatment.
An extensive investigation is currently been conducting, according to which the criminal organization has established the sale of counterfeit drugs not only in Ukraine but also in 17 other countries, including the United States, the EU, Asia and the Middle East. And this organization has falsified the drugs of 13 major global pharmaceutical companies. The range of the organization's activities suggests that it could affect many patients who needed expensive and serious treatment.
It is also necessary to mention that not only counterfeiting but also illegal import of the drug can be a significant danger to the patient. Because all drugs require specific storage conditions. For example – maintenance of the cold chain (the specific temperature conditions of storage and transportation). If the chain has been broken, the quality and effectiveness of the drug can be significantly affected. Only authorized distributors and licensed pharmacies are required to have the necessary equipment, experience and control measures to maintain the quality of drugs.
What the patients should do to be sure that they are buying an original product that has been stored properly and meets all the requirements of quality, efficiency and safety:
• First, all drugs should be purchased only from officially licensed pharmacies that can confirm the origin of the drug. Alternatively, the patient can buy the drug at the clinic where he or she is receiving treatment - but you also have the right to ask about the origin of the drug and check its documentary evidence.
• Secondly, the patient should check the documents and the packaging of medicines. Legal products of international manufacturers, which are sold to the consumers in Ukraine, always have packaging and info leaflet for the patient in Ukrainian. Products with documents from other countries (for example, German, Italian, English) are not allowed for sale to the consumers in Ukraine and should not be sold to them. And if they came on stream ― it could happen unofficially, without requirements being met.
• Third, it is illegal to purchase any drug via unknown unlicensed sellers or to purchase drugs that require special storage conditions in licensed pharmacies online. This applies to both online ads and individuals who may offer you medication. By purchasing through such channels, patients run the risk of receiving counterfeit drugs or those that have been stored improperly or whose shelf life has expired.
It goes without saying that in a real-case scenario the patient may have doubts, especially in a situation of stress, when medication is needed quickly. Therefore, we advise patients to contact the manufacturer's office or the manufacturer's representative office in Ukraine in case of any doubts about the origin of the drug or the legality of the seller. It is enough to find the contacts on the site and tell ― what drug you want to buy, from which seller, explain why you have doubts.
Ideally, after talking to the manufacturer, you should get an answer ― whether to buy drugs from this seller and if not, where you can buy them safely. Or what documents you need to check (ask at a pharmacy or hospital) to make sure the medication is appropriate.
If you have already bought the drug and have doubts about its origin ― you can also contact the manufacturer for clarification. In this case, using the batch number on the package the representative of the manufacturer has to tell you whether the drug is manufactured legally (or whether that batch exists at all) and whether it was legally sold in Ukraine.
Finally, if you have already used the drug and it did not work or caused an unforeseen side effect - I recommend you notify the manufacturer. If you do encountered counterfeiting, the manufacturer would be able to contact law enforcement to investigate the case and warn the medical community to protect the patients in the future.
Drug manufacturers are investing heavily in efforts to develop innovative drugs that can prolong and improve patients' lives. If instead of real drugs, counterfeits enter the market, it undermines patients' trust in both treatment in general and the manufacturer in particular. But the main thing - it deprives the patient of a chance to cure the disease or live with it better and longer. Therefore, in the game against counterfeit drugs, the manufacturer and the patient are in the same team.
Therefore, I can assure you that international drug manufacturers operating in Ukraine are interested in complying with all legal requirements for the sale of drugs and in giving the patients the medicines of the proper quality.