The Partnership for Safe Medicines
Weekly UpdateApril 26, 2010
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Arrests Made in Counterfeit Alli Case

Back in January, we told you about an FDA alert regarding counterfeit Alli-an FDA-approved, over-the-counter weight loss drug-which was being sold over the Internet.

The FDA found that the counterfeit pills were made with varying amounts of the stimulant sibutramine, which can be particularly harmful to those with a history of cardiovascular disease and can lead to elevated blood pressure, stroke or heart attack.

Thankfully, an investigation of the counterfeit Alli led to the arrest of two people, who were charged with illegally importing the fake medicines from China.

The Wall Street Journal reported last month that at least one person had fallen victim to the scheme and had an adverse reaction, including headaches, chills and heart-attack-like symptoms. The Wall Street Journal also noted that the man "had been taking an authentic, government-approved version of Alli when he found a website where he found purported cheaper versions of the medicine online."

We know many people are feeling the financial stress of paying for medicines, especially in a down economy. Yet, as we so often say here at the Partnership for Safe Medicines (PSM), patients must be vigilant and watch for those that look to threaten their health and safety or that of their family.

Take a look at our Safe Savings guide to learn more about how to safely save on medications, including information about prescription assistance programs and tips for safe online shopping.

As we work toward mitigating the threat counterfeit drugs through new technologies and collaboration between private industry, the public sector and international agencies, we encourage patients and health care providers to remain vigilant to these public health dangers.

As for those arrested in connection with the counterfeit Alli case, both individuals stand to face up to a $250,000 fine and several years in prison.
Top News

US: Consumers Warned about Buying Drugs While Traveling or Online


International travelers are encouraged to be cautious and, if possible, avoid purchasing drugs when traveling abroad. The World Health Organization estimates that 10 percent of all pharmaceuticals on the global market are counterfeit. In parts of Africa, Asia and Latin America, more than 30 percent of the medicines on sale by retailers are counterfeit. In some regions, the numbers can be as high as 70 percent. In the United States and many countries in Europe, the incidence of counterfeit medicines is less than 1 percent. However, medicines purchased over the Internet are counterfeit in a much larger percentage of cases. ("The Dangers of Buying Medicines Overseas," New York Times Blog, April 19; 2010; Story here)

World News

Malta: Official Charged with Importing Counterfeit Drugs


Former Chamber of Small and Medium Enterprises (GRTU) vice president and agent behind the Pharmacy of Your Choice Scheme, Mario Debono, is accused of importing counterfeit drugs into Malta in 2006. Debono's company Surgiquip was charged last week with the importation of 400 packets of the heart drug Plavix in 2006. Debono was charged with breaches of Intellectual Property Rights as well as breaches of the Medicines Act. ("Debono in the Dock: Former GRTU Vice President Behind the Pharmacy of Your Choice Scheme." Malta Today, April 14, 2010; Story here)



Canada: Olympian Arrested for Transporting Counterfeit Drugs


The skip of Canada's gold-medal curling team at the Vancouver 2010 Paralympics, Jim Armstrong, has been arrested and charged in the United States with trafficking in counterfeit lifestyle drugs. The arrest came after Federal Food and Drug Agency and Postal Inspection officials alleged they watched him pick up a box of nearly 3,000 pills mailed from a manufacturer in China. He was charged with trafficking in counterfeit goods and released after waiving his extradition rights and posting a $20,000 bond. A conviction could mean up to 10 years in jail and a fine of up to $2 million. ("Gold-medal Paralympic Curler Charged with Trafficking in Fake [Lifestyle Drugs]", Vancouver Sun, April 22, 2010; Story here)



Counterfeit Malaria Drugs a Major Public Health Concern


The World Health Organization believes counterfeit drugs constitute between 25 and 50 per cent of the medicine supply in underdeveloped countries. One type of counterfeit that is of particular concern is anti-malarial drugs. Malaria infects about 500 million people per year making the market for anti-malarials large and lucrative. The human cost of these counterfeits can be difficult to measure but a significant proportion of the one million annual deaths from malaria may be attributable to counterfeit drugs. This is due to fakes that are ineffective, toxic, and contribute to the development of resistance, rendering genuine anti-malarial medicines useless. ("Fake Medicines: Illegal, Immoral and Liable to Increase Drug Resistance," Financial Times, April 22, 2010; Story here)

About the Partnership for Safe Medicines
The Partnership for Safe Medicines is a group of organizations and individuals that have policies, procedures, or programs to protect consumers from counterfeit or contraband medicines. For more information, please visit