Sick Pakistanis, looking to buy medicine, have reported finding everything from rat poison to brick dust packaged in pills, claiming to be cures for illnesses.
Shazil Maqsood told CNN a local market provided him with a medicine for his daughter to cure her pneumonia. Unfortunately, the so-called medicine made his daughter worse, which forced him to seek serious medical attention.
“He told me to stop using these medicines,” he said. “He told me they were poisoning her. To save her life, I had no choice but to listen to the doctor.”
His daughter survived. But the World Health Organization (WHO) said over “one million people die every year worldwide” from fake medications. A video showed people “grinding powder in old mortar and pestles in an alleyway.” The men then fill different capsules and bottles to sell in kiosks.
“We make everything here, whatever is in high demand in the market place,” one counterfeiter proudly told CNN. “In all of these capsules and bottles we put the same ingredients. And all of the syrup is the same syrup. Only the color is different.”
Another man said the counterfeiters buy all their supplies from the market.
“Everything is available from the nearby market, bottles, boxes, bottle caps, capsules… everything,” he showed CNN.
But Pakistan is not the only country that dips into the fake medicine black market. WHO believes the market is worth at least $500 million with Viagra as the most popular drug. On August 21, authorities in Seattle began an investigation on a man who allegedly sold fake Viagra pills on Craigslist between August 2014 and March 2015. Tests confirmed the pills were “counterfeit and sourced from China.”
Also this month, Muhammad Zaman, a Pakistani scientist at Boston University, developed a PharmaChk, a device to detect fake drugs. He described the device, which is the size of a small suitcase:
“The idea here is very simply. It’s a method to measure the potency of the drug,” he says, demonstrating a prototype of the device to Goats and Soda at the conference. “Anybody can get trained in 15 minutes.”
“The outside shell of PharmaChk is hard plastic. Inside are wires, chips and tiny channels that shuttle liquid around. In essence, the device measures the concentration of a drug’s active ingredient and how fast it dissolves.”
“When there’s a reaction between the probe and the drug, there is light,” Zaman says. “The light that comes out is directly proportional to the amount of [active ingredients in] the drug.
“Imagine you are dealing with a drug that is completely fake,” he continues. “When you add the probe, there is no light. We can say there is no active ingredient in the drug.”