Counterfeit Drugs: A Problem for All, Especially Seniors
by Don Drake, Connelly Law Offices, Ltd.
Brian, a sixty-eight-year-old retiree, had advanced spinal stenosis, a condition that can be extremely painful in extreme cases. "I had gone to Southern California for a college reunion, and brought all my medications with me, knowing I would be there for over three weeks, " Brian told us. But somewhere in all the traveling, he lost his pain medication. "I was taking 50mg of Tramadol (Ultram) four times a day, and losing that bottle was horrifying for me."
Brian reached out to his doctors back here in New England but trying to get the meds replaced was a nightmare. "This happened on a Thursday, I spoke with the doctor on Friday and the red tape was horrendous in trying to get a controlled medication replaced, especially for a high dose like I was taking and being on the other side of the country. Then I was told I would need to pay cash for it since my insurance would 'probably not' pay for the prescription a second time. It was well over $400; I guess I could have afforded to pay for it, but it was a big financial hit, especially when on a vacation."
Brian told some of the old college friends of his dilemma and they suggested a "friend" at a local bar could get him some pain medication to "hold me over" until he could travel to Mexico where he could replace the medication for a fraction of the cost. "Normally, I would never do anything like this, but these were people I went to school with and knew for decades, so I didn't figure they would lead me down the wrong path." Unfortunately for him, they did.
"Normally, I would never do anything like this, but these were people I went to school with and knew for decades, so I didn't figure they would lead me down the wrong path." ---Brian
"When I got the packet of medication from what looked like a pretty stand-up guy, I couldn't wait to take it. I asked several times if this was Tramadol and was told yes, so I headed back to my room hoping for some relief," Brian told us. "I took a tablet immediately and felt no relief, but I figured it would take time since I was without it for several days." He then fell asleep hoping to wake up pain-free. But that was not to be.
"My friends called and woke me up later that evening and wanted to go to dinner, but I felt terrible. By that time, I had taken three of the pills, still felt no relief, and began to feel queasy and my skin was getting itchy." He then began having problems breathing and was experiencing tightness of the throat. Brian called one of his friends back who immediately contacted emergency services and he was transported to Mercy Hospital where he was diagnosed with anaphylactic shock. The pills that Brian was given, thinking they were tramadol, turned out to be an antibiotic, a class of medication he was deathly allergic to.
"I certainly would never do this ever again," Brian told us. "But I'm not a drug addict, I needed the medication because of losing my bottle and did not want to pay for the excessive cost of replacing the prescription that I needed to control my pain. I was able to get a prescription from the ER at the hospital and gave up on the idea of traveling to Mexico to buy who knows what. Just to save a few bucks, I almost died. I started to wonder how many seniors who live on a limited income go through the same thing. It's scary." Unfortunately, some are not as lucky as Brian.
Death and Counterfeit Drugs
"When someone is severely injured or suffers from chronic pain, they would do almost anything to seek some relief," said certified elder law Attorney RJ Connelly III. "Obviously, pain affects the body, but it also affects a person's emotions, their relationships, and of course, the mind. It causes anxiety and depression which, in turn, will make the pain worse. It's a merry-go-round that's hard to jump off once you begin riding." And such is the story of a young man in Palmdale, California.
In December 2021, a 22-year-old powerlifter named Jordan Erickson injured himself at the Lock It Out Barbell Gym and was given a pain pill thought to be oxycodone by a peer. It turned out it was a fake oxycodone pill laced with fentanyl, and it claimed his life.
In early July, DEA agents executed a federal search warrant that resulted in the seizure of one million fentanyl pills linked to Mexico’s Sinaloa cartel. Agents executed the search warrant after investigating the drug trafficking organization that began in May. The fake fentanyl pills were reported to be worth $15 to $20 million.
Agents stated that their officers seized more than three million fentanyl pills last year. From January through April of this year, they have seized about 1.5 million fentanyl pills, which is a staggering 64 percent increase over the same period in 2021.
DEA Special Agent in Charge, Bill Bodner said, "a staggering number of teens and young adults are unaware that they are ingesting fentanyl in these fake pills and are being poisoned.”
But fake pills are not limited to opioids and what some see as "street drugs". They also include high-priced prescription medications and those seeking less expensive alternatives often end up as victims in this dangerous game. Sadly, seniors are the most vulnerable of all age groups when it comes to phony prescriptions.
Seniors and Prescriptions
"It probably comes as no surprise that older adults are the number one consumers of prescription medication in this country," said Attorney RJ Connelly III. "With the high number of baby boomers rapidly transitioning into their senior years, this trend can be expected to skyrocket. In the last ten years alone, the use of medication by seniors has jumped by almost forty percent! And with inflation currently running out of control and costs going higher, we may have some problems ahead of us."
And here are some other facts to consider:
Ninety percent of seniors use at least one prescription drug daily.
Four out of ten seniors aged sixty-five or older use five or more medications weekly, and of this group, 12% use ten or more different medications.
Prescription drug use by our senior citizens accounts for over one-third of all medications dispensed in this country.
Why this tremendous use of medications by seniors? Well, we could be pessimistic and say the pharmaceutical companies are profiting from the graying of America, but the truth is that medications help contribute to the health and independence of our seniors. With the move to keep our seniors out of institutional care and aging at home, new and improved medicines will play an integral part in making this a reality.
Unfortunately, the development of pharmaceuticals does not come cheaply, and many new drugs come with hefty price tags, if they are covered by health insurance, the co-pays may be just as hefty depending on which insurance plan is in place. So, aging baby boomers, most of whom are tech savvy, have access to the world through the internet and are searching to find other sources of prescription medications to save money is now possible for everyone.
But, as with all things bought online, let the buyer beware. This isn't as benign as getting a towel set that is not the same color as you ordered that you could send back, a mistake with ordering medication can be deadly -- and very quickly.
"The Food and Drug Administration reports that 97% of online pharmacies are fraudulent...many peddle counterfeit medicines which may contain toxic materials."
The Food and Drug Administration reports that 97% of online pharmacies are fraudulent and even more alarming, many peddle counterfeit medicines which may contain toxic materials. This is a major problem worldwide.
Counterfeit Drug Market
The counterfeit drug market presents a global threat to the health and safety of millions of patients looking to buy inexpensive medications. The World Health Organization estimates that 10% of medications worldwide are counterfeit with some underdeveloped countries having a counterfeit rate of over 50%.