A counterfeit drug or a counterfeit medicine is a medication, which is produced and sold with the intent to deceptively represent its origin, authenticity or effectiveness. A counterfeit drug may be one which does not contain active ingredients, contains an insufficient quantity of active ingredients, or contains entirely incorrect active ingredients (which may or may not be harmful), and which is typically sold with inaccurate, incorrect, or fake packaging. Fake medicines and generic drugs which are deliberately mislabeled in order to deceive consumers are therefore counterfeit, while a drug which has not received regulatory approval is not necessarily so.
An individual who applies a counterfeit medication may experience a number of dangerous consequence to their health, such as unexpected side effects, allergic reactions, or a worsening of their medical condition. A number of counterfeits do not contain any active ingredients, and instead contain inert substances, which do not provide the patient any treatment benefits. Counterfeit medications may also contain incorrect ingredients, improper dosages of the correct ingredients, or they may contain hazardous ingredients.
The extent of the problem of counterfeit drugs is unknown. Counterfeiting is difficult to detect, investigate, and quantify. So, it is hard to know or even estimate the true extent of the problem. What is known is that they occur worldwide and are more prevalent in developing countries. It is estimated that upwards of 10% of drugs worldwide are counterfeit, and in some countries more than 50% of the drug supply is made up of counterfeit drugs. Furthermore, the World Health Organization estimates that the annual earnings of counterfeit drugs are over 32 Billion U.S. Dollars.
There are several technologies that may prove helpful in combating this problem, such as radio frequency identification, which uses electronic devices to track and identify items, such as pharmaceutical products, by assigning individual serial numbers to the containers holding each product. This technology may prevent the diversion or counterfeiting of drugs by allowing wholesalers and pharmacists to determine the identity and dosage of individual products.
On May 6, 2005, the Chinese press agency Xinhua reported that the World Health Organization had established Rapid Alert System (RAS), the world's first web-based system for tracking the activities of drug cheats, in light of the increasing severity of the problem of counterfeit drugs.