If you are buying medication from a legitimate pharmacy, you shouldn’t have to worry about the possibility of fake pills. If you buy drugs from illegitimate sources, including online “pharmacies” that sell discount prescription pills and dealers on the street, it’s possible that you may get fake pills.
There is no foolproof way to identify fake pills, but it’s helpful to familiarize yourself with the pill’s color, shape, size, and markings. You can also use testing kits to determine the presence of certain substances in the pills.
Prescription drugs are a multibillion-dollar industry. They require a doctor’s visit and prescription, and they can be relatively costly, even if insurance may cover a chunk of that cost. The companies that produce these drugs are regulated, and a business must follow strict rules so that it can sell prescription drugs.
Some people, especially those who seek to abuse drugs, are lured in by websites or drug dealers who promise prescription medications without the hassle of needing a prescription. These sources often advertise the drugs at much lower prices.
Even some legitimate health care providers fall prey to these types of practices. Areas with looser regulations or needs for certain drugs that aren’t being met are especially vulnerable.
Most of these “deals” of cheap or more readily available medicines are scams. They can send counterfeit medicine, with no effect at all, improper dosages, or even a totally unrelated and potentially dangerous drug masquerading as the desired prescription drug. For these reasons, you should never purchase drugs from any source besides a legitimate and law-abiding pharmacy.
You can verify certain aspects of pills by sight, such as color, shape, and markings. While this isn’t a foolproof way to identify pills, a visual check can help you quickly spot things that are off.
RxList, a prescription drug site, offers a tool for this very purpose. This tool allows you to put information into a search engine of sorts that will filter through numerous prescription drugs to help you find the one your pill might be.
Be very careful when using this method. If a pill’s markings seem slightly different or its color is off, it could be a sign that it is a counterfeit medication or the wrong medication. If you acquired the pills illegitimately, this is a sign you should not take them. If you acquired them legally, you should ask a pharmacist or similar health care professional about your concerns before taking them.
This method is not a guarantee you will catch counterfeit medication. Some counterfeiters produce quality fakes, and often, mistakes (if there are any) in appearance may be more subtle than an untrained eye can detect.
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A more thorough way to examine if a drug is legitimate is to test it chemically. The viability of this option will vary from drug to drug, but kits are available to test for a variety of commonly used chemicals in counterfeit medications. Many of these kits are even useful for the detection of unknown chemicals or cutting agents in (generally illicit) recreational drugs.
While abusing drugs is never advised, you should at least understand if the drugs you are abusing are cut with anything and, if so, what that cutting agent is. At the very least, this can prevent you from taking drugs that are cut with potentially very lethal substances like fentanyl.
These kits are not perfect and will not necessarily cover what you need to test a particular prescription drug’s legitimacy. Their primary purpose is to test illicit drugs for cutting agents.
The limitations of home testing mean you rarely will be able to guarantee you have received the correct drug even if you can determine if it is likely legitimate.
Drug testing kits are generally designed to help drug abusers not accidentally take a substance they did not want to take. They are not good for detecting if a drug is 100 percent legitimate. They should not be relied upon if you are seeking prescription drugs to treat a condition. In this instance, you should see a medical doctor regardless.
Fast Company recently did a piece on a new startup company called RxAll. This company essentially took a bulky $20,000 machine that can be used to test drugs and designed a $1,000 more compact version.
This was inspired after one of the founders, a Nigerian man named Adebayo Alonge, nearly died after being accidentally administered counterfeit drugs while in the hospital. In much of Africa and many other parts of the world, counterfeit drugs are a massive problem, even among people who receive their drugs from legitimate pharmacies and hospitals.
While machines like this are still out of the acceptable price range for people who are getting drugs from rogue pharmacies and drug dealers, it is not unfeasible for clinics and similar organizations to acquire such a device. These facilities may offer testing services to prevent people from a fatal overdose on unknown drugs, or they could help people verify that their medication for a legitimate medical need is valid and not counterfeit.
Illegal sources of drugs should never be trusted. Profit is always the bottom line. If you are worried that a drug you are taking is counterfeit, you probably should not be testing it yourself in the first place. Either the professional you got it from should verify it for you, or you got it illegitimately and should not be taking it at all.
Be very careful about what you put in your body. Counterfeiters can be quite industrious, creating fakes that look identical to the real thing. Most people lack the medical knowledge and tools to fully ensure on their own that a pill is legitimate.
Identifying Drugs. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). Retrieved from https://www.getsmartaboutdrugs.gov/drugs
RxList Pill Identification Tool. RxList. Retrieved from https://www.rxlist.com/pill-identification-tool/article.htm
5 Tips on How to Identify Fake Drugs. Pharmapproach.com. Retrieved from https://www.pharmapproach.com/how-to-identify-fake-drugs/
(March 2019). This Startup Built a Device to Figure Out if Prescription Drugs are Fake. Fast Company. Retrieved from https://www.fastcompany.com/90323372/this-startup-built-a-device-to-figure-out-if-prescription-drugs-are-fake
(February). Testing Kit Instructions. DanceSafe. Retrieved from https://dancesafe.org/testing-kit-instructions/
(January 2015). How to Buy Medicines Safely From an Online Pharmacy. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Retrieved from https://www.fda.gov/ForConsumers/ConsumerUpdates/ucm048396.htm
(August 2016). Counterfeit Medicine. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Retrieved from https://www.fda.gov/drugs/resourcesforyou/consumers/buyingusingmedicinesafely/counterfeitmedicine/