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Counterfeit Viagra, Cialis, Levitra: The Ultimate Guide

Erectile dysfunction drugs, including both brand-name and generic, are among the most widely counterfeited drugs in the world. Your best safeguard against fake drugs is to buy only from reputable suppliers.

In one week of September 2017, international authorities in a single coordinated enforcement action seized 25 million illicit and counterfeit medicines worldwide, according to a report from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

And there’s no real way of knowing how many more counterfeit operations went undetected that week and every other week of the year. While there are few reliable estimates of how lucrative the global trade in counterfeit drugs is, most informed sources place it in the tens of billions of dollars.

Today, pharmaceutical supply chains extend over several continents, with over 80 percent of active ingredients for U.S.-manufactured drugs now made overseas.

These extensive supply chains have actually made it easier to ship counterfeit drugs into the United States. And while the most frequently counterfeited drugs are “lifestyle” drugs like those used to treat erectile dysfunction (Viagra, Cialis, and Levitra, for example), counterfeit versions of other drugs, including the cancer drug Avastin, have also been seized. Frighteningly, there’s no good way of knowing how many, if any, cancer patients may have received the fake Avastin.

What You Could Get in a Counterfeit Drug

Some counterfeit drugs have been found to contain printer ink as a coloring agent.

Legitimate pharmaceutical companies like Pfizer sometimes order and analyze “drugs” purchased from various online outlets. For example, when Pfizer ordered Viagra from 26 online outlets and analyzed them in their laboratories, they discovered that 81 percent of the drugs were fake. When you take a counterfeit drug, at best you may get a placebo-type drug with no active ingredient. At worst, you could ingest something dangerous. Here are a few of the ingredients that have been found in counterfeit drugs:

  • Crushed wall board
  • Printer ink
  • Amphetamines
  • Boric acid
  • Rat poison

Where Do Counterfeit Drugs Come From?

Many counterfeit drugs have been traced to China, Singapore, and India. Sometimes, websites selling fake drugs claim to be shipped from Canada when in reality they are shipped from one of these other countries. In April 2012, officials with the Canada Border Services Agency discovered around 2,400 counterfeit Viagra and Levitra pills inside electric rice cookers that were shipped to Canada from China.

Stopping the flow of counterfeit drugs has become a joint undertaking between governments and legitimate pharmaceutical companies. For example, in 2011 Europe passed legislation that requires each pack of drugs to be identified by a unique serial number. Under that law, which was implemented in 2016, hospitals and pharmacists must scan bar codes to ensure that the product is legitimate. Pharmaceutical companies often have their own global security teams made up of former FBI and narcotics agencies. Results of sting operations are shared with the relevant authorities in other countries.

How Can You Identify Fake Drugs?

Protect yourself from counterfeit drugs by taking the following steps:

  • Avoid ordering from websites offering drugs at prices far lower than your local pharmacy. “Too good to be true” prices usually indicate a problem.
  • Avoid sites that sell prescription drugs without requiring a prescription.
  • Do not buy “generic,” “fast dissolve,” or “soft tab” versions of Cialis. Real Cialis is only available as an almond-shaped tablet that you swallow whole.
  • Do not reply to unsolicited email ads for ED drugs. Legitimate pharmaceutical companies do not email patients unless the patient specifically requests information and generally do not sell their drugs directly to patients.

While it’s sometimes hard to know for sure if a drug you’ve ordered online is a counterfeit, here are two possible ways to tell:

  • If you have a sample tablet that you received from your doctor, compare the drug you ordered with the sample drug. If the look, feel, printing, color, or font is different, you may have received a counterfeit.
  • Monitor how the medication tastes and how it makes you feel. If it tastes “wrong” or gives you unusual symptoms, beware. You should report such situations to your physician promptly and stop taking the medication.

What to Do If You Think It’s Counterfeit

The FDA maintains an online and telephone system for reporting suspected counterfeit medications.

Physicians are learning to recognize signs in patients that have taken fake drugs. If, for example, a patient reports that his treatment is no longer working, or that he has developed unusual side effects, the physician should ask where the drug came from. Reporting possible counterfeit drugs to your physician can help him or her recognize the possibility of other patients taking counterfeit drugs.

If you receive a drug from an online pharmacy and it does not work, does not look right, or gives you symptoms you’ve never had before, stop taking it immediately and notify your doctor. Your physician may want to make a report to the FDA. Do not take chances with a drug that may be counterfeit.

You can also report suspected counterfeit drugs to the FDA through the agency’s MedWatch program. The MedWatch program is confidential and secure, and the information you submit will be reviewed by a pharmacist, doctor, or nurse working for the FDA as a safety evaluator. If necessary, the FDA will work with federal law enforcement to put a stop to a website that is found to be selling counterfeit drugs.

Counterfeiting Is Hard to Stop

Drugs for erectile dysfunction and other “lifestyle” drugs are the most commonly counterfeited drugs, though counterfeiters are branching out into other types of drugs. The counterfeit drug trade is very lucrative, and the risks to drug counterfeiters are not that great. For example, in the U.S., drug counterfeiting usually results in a three-year prison sentence upon conviction. By contrast, counterfeiting money would draw a 15-year sentence.

While government and private initiatives can help identify and stop existing counterfeiters, it is likely that new counterfeit operations will spring up to replace the old ones, and that counterfeiters will develop their own techniques to get around legislative requirements like the new European requirements for bar codes and serial numbers. This means that you have to take steps to protect yourself, and that if you receive a drug that you think may be fake, you should err on the side of caution and refrain from taking it.

There’s no disputing the convenience and savings available from buying drugs for ED through legitimate online facilitators such as eDrugstore.com. However, you must be careful not to be drawn into ordering from a pharmacy that sells counterfeit drugs. Reputable online facilitators require a prescription for all ED medications as well as other prescription drugs they stock. If you don’t have a doctor’s prescription, eDrugstore can arrange a complimentary online consultation with a licensed U.S. physician who can authorize a prescription if appropriate. To learn more, visit eDrugstore’s Erection Problems page.

Don Amerman has spent more than three decades in the business of writing and editing. During the last 15 years, his focus has been on freelance writing. For almost all of his writing, He has done all of his own research, both online and off, including telephone and face-to-face interviews where possible. Don Amerman on Google+