Mass Pharmacy Closures Create ‘Breeding Ground’ for Counterfeit Pills Laced with Deadly Substances, Experts Warn

Mass Pharmacy Closures Create ‘Breeding Ground’ for Counterfeit Pills Laced with Deadly Substances, Experts Warn

Experts Warn: Pharmacy Closures Could Lead to More People Exposed to Fake Pills

Experts are warning that more people could be exposed to fake pills potentially laced with deadly substances because of the mass closure of pharmacies.

Roei Ganzarski, who directs a company working to spot counterfeit medication, said many patients were now being forced online to fill their prescriptions.

This was creating a “breeding ground” for counterfeit pills, he said, because it raised the risk of patients turning to cheaper, third-party websites that may sell pills laced with “life-threatening substances.”

These include fentanyl, a drug already killing tens of thousands of Americans each year by accidental overdoses.

Major drug store chains including Rite Aid and CVS are closing more than 1,500 locations across the US, particularly in low-income neighborhoods and rural areas, leaving millions of Americans in “pharmacy deserts.”

Mr Ganzarski, who directs Washington-based health tech company Alitheon, told Fox News: “When you go digital, you just don’t know who you’re ordering from or what it is you’re actually getting — and yet you’re putting it in your body.”

“Patients might think, ‘Oh look, I can buy it from this company in Canada or Taiwan and it’s cheaper,'” he said.

“They may not even know who it is, but hey, it says the name of their medicine and it’s much cheaper.”

He added: “Bad actors can get their hands on a surplus of old pills that were supposed to be destroyed or thrown away then change the date and ship them.”

Patients could also receive pills where “there is literally nothing there.

You’re just taking a pill that is a placebo, and then you don’t understand why you’re not getting better.”

He said purchasing from major pharmacies like CVS and Walgreens or local pharmacies online was safe.

But there were concerns over third-party pharmacies which are not based in the US, he said.

Officials are working to remove fraudulent websites, but new ones can be easily set up to sell the drugs.

Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) showed the number of overdoses caused by fake pills more than doubled from Q3 in 2019 to Q4 in 2021 rising from two percent to 4.7 percent.

America’s overdose deaths crisis has been driven by fentanyl — behind eight in ten deaths — which illicit manufacturers mix into substances in order to give users a more intense high.

But this drug can be fatal even in tiny amounts while many users are unaware that their drugs are laced with this substance.

There are now fears that more people could be unwittingly exposed to the drug via counterfeit pills sold in pharmacy deserts, further raising the overdose death toll.

Rite Aid is planning to close 150 of its 2,100 US locations after the pharmacy chain filed for bankruptcy earlier this month.

It had been unable to settle hundreds of lawsuits accusing it of overprescribing opioids and has struggled to keep up with competitors.

CVS is set to close the doors on 900 of its stores by the end of 2024, 10 percent of all its shops, as part of its online strategy.

And Walgreens is also due to shutter 150 of its stores by summer 2024, citing slashed earnings due to plummeting demand for Covid vaccines and tests.

A slew of drugstore chains slashing their locations has left millions of people living in areas where it’s difficult to obtain medication, areas known as pharmacy deserts, according to JAMA.

“‘According to our estimates, about one in four neighborhoods are pharmacy deserts across the country,'” Dima Qato, an associate professor at the University of Southern California told the Washington Post.: “‘These closures are disproportionately affecting communities that need pharmacies most.'”

America remains in the grips of an overdose crisis with more than 10,000 people dying from drug overdoses every month, figures show.

Latest data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shows an estimated 112,000 people died from overdoses in the year to May 2023, up slightly on the previous month’s estimate.

That was the equivalent of nearly 10,000 deaths per month, which experts warned was like a jet full of Americans crashing and burning almost every day.

The overdose crisis is being driven by fentanyl, behind about eight in ten overdose deaths, which is 1