Israel joins world effort to halt counterfeit drug sales

Effort by police, Health Ministry's unit against pharmaceutical crime coordinated with the World Health Organization (WHO).

pills 88 (photo credit: Courtesy)
pills 88
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Purchasing prescription medications via the Internet, newspaper advertisements or from any source other than licensed pharmacies is dangerous, according to the Health Ministry, which together with the Israel Police has seized thousands of pills suspected of being counterfeit. The effort by the police and the ministry's unit against pharmaceutical crime was part of an international law-enforcement campaign now being carried out in coordination with the World Health Organization (WHO) aimed at combating the smuggling of counterfeit medications and those not approved for marketing as well as protecting public health. November 12 was set by the WHO as the date for a simultaneous effort to catch such criminals. Inspectors went to the Tel Aviv package warehouse of the Israel Postal Company and other facilities last week, seizing drugs prohibited in Israel and others suspected of being counterfeit that had been shipped from India and China. Among the drugs suspected of being fake were erectile dysfunction (impotence), anti-narcolepsy, contraceptive, antibiotic and psychotropic drugs. Some 3,000 pills were seized in Tel Aviv, with a similar number being confiscated in Haifa and Jerusalem that have not yet been examined. Three men suspected of belonging to a counterfeit drug gang were arrested by the police unit that protects intellectual property, headed by Rav-Pakad Yossi Ofir. According to the ministry, more than half of prescription medications advertised in Israel's print media are counterfeit. The Dutch health authorities said that counterfeit drugs they have intercepted have either lower amounts of active ingredients, none at all - or completely different (and potentially dangerous) drugs such as antibiotics, antidepressants and psychedelic drugs. Health authorities in Singapore recently reported one death and 89 cases of hospitalization of people who took fake Cialis (an erectile dysfunction drug) or "natural food supplements" with dangerous levels of anti-diabetes chemicals. Drugs not sold in pharmacies, the ministry said, were likely to have been manufactured under poor sanitary conditions, made out of unsuitable raw materials and stored and shipped at the wrong temperatures - all without supervision. There are some pharmacies authorized by the ministry to market prescription drugs via the Internet, but most Web site and e-mailed ads are placed by unauthorized sources, the ministry continued. If there is no official pharmacy logo on a Web site or on documents, and if the site does not demand a doctor's prescription for the drugs, the likelihood that the service is illegal is high. Consumers should be suspicious when they are offered drugs via "junk mail" that they did not request; sites that don't list the full address of the pharmacy (but only an e-mail address or phone number) and don't insist on an doctor's official prescription. Often, the e-mail comes from Africa or Asia, and the drug names are generic and different than those known in the Western world, without the name and location of the manufacturer being given. Complaints from consumers about drugs suspected of being counterfeit can be sent to the the Health Ministry's Unit for the Fight against Pharmaceutical Crime, Tel (02) 6551772, fax (02) 6551776 and e-mail