Most people know there's a risk of buying counterfeit drugs on the Internet. What you need to know...

Problem: Even drugs purchased from US pharmacies might be fake.

According to an FDA estimate, about one percent of the nation's drug supply—about 35 million prescriptions annually—is believed to be counterfeit.

What happens: Drugs are typically sold by manufacturers to wholesalers, who then sell them to pharmacies. However, some dishonest wholesalers tamper with drugs before selling them. Often, they buy cut-rate—sometimes phony-drugs from unlicensed or suspicious sources, explains Katherine Eban, an investigative journalist who has documented counterfeit drugs in her book Dangerous Doses (Harcourt).

The drugs most vulnerable to counterfeiting are commonly used and/or expensive.

Examples: The cholesterol-lowering drug atorvastatin (Lipitor) and the anemia drug epoetin (Procrit). Even common antibiotics such as penicillin have been faked. How to protect yourself…

  • Sign up for free Email alerts on fake drugs at, the Web site of the nonprofit Partnership for Safe Medicines.
  • Become familiar with the shape, color and, if applicable, taste of the drugs that you take. Some counterfeits appear and/or taste slightly different from the real medication.
  • Note if your medicine seems to stop working or causes new side effects. If you suspect that a drug is a counterfeit, tell your pharmacist and physician immediately and report it on the FDA Web site at

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