Buying medication overseas can be a temptation due to apparent ease of access, reduced cost, access without a script over the internet and sometimes is needed due to running out or losing medication when travelling. Many medicines have been counterfeited or found to be substandard from inexpensive antihistamines to expensive cancer, HIV/AIDS treatments, Viagra and antimalarials. They have been shown to contain random mixes of harmful toxic substances instead of the active ingredient to inactive, ineffective preparations. Some contain the declared active ingredient, but in different dosage to the labelling. In every case identified the source of the medicine is unknown and the content unreliable. International regulatory bodies, national medicines regulatory authorities, enforcement agencies, pharmaceutical companies and nongovernment organizations all attempt to collect data and reduce the incidence of the problem, which can lead to illness, outbreaks of infectious disease due to vaccine or medication failure, death, toxicity and drug resistance.

Global estimates of drug counterfeiting range from 1% of sales in developed countries to more than 10% in regions such as Africa, Asia and Latin America. The WHO struggles to provide accurate up-to date figures on the size of the counterfeit drug trade, but estimates that it is growing by more than 13% annually. One study demonstrated that 50% of medicines purchased over the Internet from illegal sites that conceal their physical address have been found to be counterfeit.

A large proportion of the world's counterfeit medicines originate in Asia, with an estimated 40% going to first-world markets despite their regulatory and customs systems. New technology is being employed to allow legitimate drug manufacturers to label packages with encrypted codes. The consumer scratches off the label on the package, texts the code to the company and a return text informs the consumer that the medicine is genuine. Handheld spectrometers are being used the analyse drugs being carried through airports, the composition of drugs can be analysed on the spot and fakes detected rapidly.


A recommended pre-travel list as advised by the Centre for Disease Control includes

  • Buying all medications needed before leaving, especially anti-malarials, cardiovascular drugs and asthma therapies. Prescriptions written in Australia cannot be filled overseas
  • Packing as much prescription medicine into carry-on luggage as possible
  • Keeping medication in the original packaging with the dosage and instructions for use
  • Carrying a medication prescription letter


A guide to buying medication overseas also from the Centre for disease Control suggests

  • Buy medication from a legitimate pharmacy, request a receipt when making the purchase
  • Medications should be in their original packaging with expiry dates, brand and batch numbers
  • Be aware of the usual size, shape , colour and taste of authentic medication used
  • Check packaging against original, and be aware of different coloured inks, poor quality printing or misspelt words


Useful Information about counterfeit drugs can be found at

World Health Organization

Centre for Disease Control:

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