"What would have cost tens of thousands of dollars…can now be done for hundreds of dollars, so it's easier to fake stuff now," warns Roger Bate, resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) and the author of "Phake: The Deadly World of Falsified and Substandard Medicine."
Counterfeit, adulterated, or otherwise compromised prescription drugs are a major problem in Africa and a growing problem in the First World, argues Bate. In recent years, counterfeiters passed off hundreds of thousands of phony Lexapro pills around the globe and in 2008 at least 149 Americans died from fake Heparin, a blood-thinning drug. All told, says Bate, the number of deaths globally from ineffective drugs ranges from 100,000 to 1 million.
As drug production moves to China and other developing nations where oversight is tougher to maintain and more sales take place online where provenance can be tougher to ascertain, Bate says that the most viable solution is increased vigilance on the part of drug makers, providers, and patients alike. He looks forward to a fast-approaching world in which hand-held spectrometers verify pills on the spot and praises various online-pharmacy certification programs.
Referring to the classic 1949 film, "The Third Man," in which Orson Welles plays a drug counterfeiter whose watered-down penicillin in post-war Europe leads to the death of several children, Bate gives Hollywood credit for being well ahead of the curve on putting the spotlight on what he calls "the 2nd oldest profession."