Published on Nov 21, 2022
Authored by Pfizer Medical Team
Every morning, as you greet the day and shake your prescribed medicine into your hand, you're trusting that they’re authentic. Worldwide, though, illegal medications are more common than some might think.
Studies show approximately 10-40% of medicines sold in developing countries are fake.1 There are risks of taking a fake medicine, such as, it may not work at all or cause serious reactions.
The chances of your medication being fake are small, but there's still a risk. You can make the best-informed decisions about your health, by knowing what fake medicines are and how to identify fake medicines.
In a side-by-side comparison, it can be difficult to tell the difference between a fake and real medication.
Laboratory testing can confirm 100% if a medication is real or fake, but there are signs that people can lookout for:
Misspellings of the product name, manufacturer, or main ingredients on the medicine bottle labels or other packaging are the biggest, and some of the most noticeable, mistakes.
Your medication could change size and shape. Call your doctor or pharmacy to confirm any changes.
Authentic medication will always have a factory-made appearance. If your tablets are cracked, have a bubbled-up coating, or are crumbly, take notice. Moldy pills or jars containing excess powder or crystals should also be considered suspicious.
Medication that comes in the original manufacturer packaging should be sealed. If it's open, appears tampered with, or just doesn't look right, it’s worth checking with the pharmacist.
If you suspect your medication is fake, most importantly, don't take it. Call your doctor and pharmacy to let them know and ask about your next steps.
Reach out to the pharmaceutical manufacturer, as well. They have records of each drug batch they produce. If yours doesn't fall in line with their records, they will know. Company representatives can also tell you how to properly dispose of illegal medicines.
Ultimately, as long as you buy your prescriptions from a bricks-and-mortar (a business that has at least one physical location that customers can visit) or reliable online pharmacy, you can be confident your medication is authentic. Still, knowing how to identify fake medicines can keep you and your loved ones safe in the long run.
Report side effects:
Counterfeit medicines. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/page/counterfeit-medicine. Published July 7, 2021. Accessed 4 November 2022.
- Counterfeit medicines and medical devices: https://www.tga.gov.au/safety/counterfeit-products/counterfeit-medicines-and-medical-devices
- How to spot a counterfeit medicine: https://www.tga.gov.au/news/blog/how-spot-counterfeit-medicine
- How to safely dispose unwanted medicines: https://www.tga.gov.au/safe-disposal-unwanted-medicines