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Opinion: Counterfeit pills aren’t someone else’s problem

We read and hear stories about seizures of counterfeit medications at our borders with Canada and Mexico and at major shipping ports. We may think it’s a problem that exists only in newspapers and on TV, not in our own medicine cabinets.

We need to dispel the idea that fake pills are someone else’s problem, particularly when seizures in Detroit, Port Huron, Taylor and other Michigan communities reveal the presence of deadly fentanyl.

The proliferation of illegally imported counterfeit medications is having tragic and all-too-frequent human consequences in our own communities. Three young people died last year in Auburn Hills after ingesting counterfeit Percocet tablets.

Of course, the problem extends beyond our state’s borders — a 16-year-old in Bellingham, Washington, died when she bought Percocet tablets on the street for her anxiety. Our Canadian neighbors also play a role in combating this scourge. Law enforcement officials there confiscated 20,000 pills in realistic looking oxycodone bottles bearing the name of a major legitimate manufacturer. Those pills contained potentially lethal fentanyl.

This problem is a direct result of the normal drug safety channels being circumvented when counterfeit pills are made, sold and distributed. One of the channels commonly used to secure medicines today is so-called online pharmacies.

In fact, there are 35,000 internet-based drugstores and, according to the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy, more than 95% of them have violated federal or state laws for not meeting quality or safety standards.

The Food and Drug Administration has, in recent years, sent warning letters to doctors in the state because they may have purchased counterfeit or unapproved medications. But there is no way of knowing the extent to which unethical wholesalers have had an impact on Michigan families.

These confiscations, deaths and warning letters are examples of the increasing threats we’re facing today from counterfeit medicines. Law enforcement authorities on both sides of the border are devoting a tremendous amount of resources to keep Americans safe, particularly throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

The cyberspace criminals peddling fake coronavirus treatments and test kits have been plentiful. We live in an environment where selling false hope is a growth enterprise.

The idea of a safe, online pharmacy is alluring, especially in this day and age when our health insurance co-pays are often higher than we can afford. But the term “pharmacy” is nothing short of an illusion in this context.

It gives residents the idea that discount drugs are a click away and that medicines can be purchased and consumed outside of the conventional supply chain without any danger to health and well-being.

Let’s be clear: No one guarantees the safety of prescriptions purchased from online pharmacies, even if they claim to be affiliated with a country with stringent regulatory standards, like Canada.

Matt Saxton is executive director of the Michigan Sheriffs’ Association and former Calhoun County sheriff.