Those who buy fake Internet drugs should think twice before making their next purchase, for a leading journal's editor has said that such an activity could risk their lives and support terrorism.
Editor-in-Chief Dr Graham Jackson, a UK-based Consultant Cardiologist, has called for greater public awareness of the dangers and consequences of the counterfeit drugs market, which is expected to be worth 55 billion pounds by 2010.
"Harmful ingredients found in counterfeit medicines include arsenic, boric acid, leaded road paint, floor and shoe polish, talcum powder, chalk and brick dust and nickel" he said.
He added: "In one scheme, Americans buying fake Viagra on the internet were actually helping to fund Middle East terrorism, unknowingly jeopardising the lives of men and women serving in their own armed forces."
According to estimates by UK's Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency, nearly 62 per cent of the prescription only medicines offered on the Internet, without the need for a prescription, are fakes.
Jackson said: "Alarmingly these include fake drugs that could have devastating consequences, like counterfeit medication for potentially fatal conditions like cancer and high blood pressure. Others can include no active ingredients or harmful ingredients like amphetamines."
While some internet pharmacies are legitimate, a large number are illegal and often operate internationally, selling products of unknown content or origin.
"Counterfeit drugs may originate from many different countries, where governments have little or no controls in place, and be then imported into other countries without being inspected" said Jackson.
He added: "In 2004 Pfizer investigated one Canadian online pharmacy and discovered that the domain name was hosted in Korea and registered in St Kitts. Orders placed on the web were dispatched in a plain envelope from Oklahoma City with a non-existent return address."
In his opinion, the challenge of combating these criminal and potentially life-threatening activities is a major concern.
However efforts are being hampered by a lack of resources, manpower, adequate legislation and coordination between countries.
Jackson pointed out that raising public awareness is essential, as lives are clearly at risk.
"The best way to avoid counterfeit drugs is to use a reputable and regulated pharmacy that dispenses with a legal prescription," he said.
Jackson's views make part of an editorial in the February issue of IJCP, the International Journal of Clinical Practice.