Pfizer Warns of Fake Drugs Sold Online


The dangers of counterfeit medicine are the focus of a new patient education campaign launched by Pfizer and the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy

The dangers of counterfeit medicine are the focus of a new patient education campaign launched by Pfizer and the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy

Sellers that trade in the world's $75 billion counterfeit drug business have found a home for their products online, where patients are more likely to engage in risky buying behavior, according to a new survey by Pfizer and Harris Interactive. Counterfeits of Pfizer products—including the best-selling erectile dysfunction drug Viagra—have been confirmed in at least 101 countries, the manufacturer said.

The findings are the basis of Pfizer's new counterfeit drug awareness campaign, launched September 29, 2011, in cooperation with the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy (NABP). Through its Web site,, a "Spot Fake Meds" YouTube channel, and other patient education resources, the campaign warns consumers about the dangers of counterfeit drugs and encourages them to vet online pharmacies before making a purchase.

"Counterfeiters who sell fake medicines online prey on ingrained online buying behavior, in which consumers disregard warning signs, and prioritize price and convenience," said NABP executive director Carmen Catizone, MS, RPh, DPh. "As a result, counterfeiters sell fake medicines through deceptive practices and typically don't insist that patients provide a valid prescription, which is required by law."


VIPPS seal displayed on the Web site of an accredited online pharmacy.

Unsafe searching

A recent analysis by Pfizer found that online searches for Viagra yield a mixed bag of results from rogue Internet pharmacies selling both real and counterfeit versions of the erectile dysfunction drug. After purchasing and testing Viagra from 26 pharmacy Web sites that appear in the top results for the search terms "buy Viagra," Pfizer researchers found that all 26 were operating illegally and 81% were selling counterfeit product.

The manufacturer says patients with erectile dysfunction lack the health literacy skills needed to spot the signs that an online pharmacy is illegal. Just 6% of men surveyed in the Harris-Pfizer poll said they were "extremely or very knowledgeable" about how to distinguish legitimate sellers from rogue Internet pharmacies. They were also likely to purchase erectile dysfunction drugs based on spam advertisements (27%) and online searches (36%).

Safe channels do exist for patients who want the convenience of purchasing drugs online, according to Pfizer and NABP. FDA encourages patients to recognize and look for NABP's Verified Internet Pharmacy Practice Sites (VIPPS) seal before providing their credit card information to any online pharmacy. "Consumers can outsmart counterfeiters, as long as they know what to look for," said Patrick Ford, director of global security for Pfizer.

For other articles in this issue, see:

  • Health Teams Divided on Who to Call "Doctor"
  • Parents Still Fear Routine Child Vaccines

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