This picture taken on March 14 shows health workers preparing to destroy fake medicines seized in Beijing in recent months.
STR—AFP/Getty Images
By Dan Kedmey
June 5, 2014

Today the world celebrates Anti-Counterfeiting Day, and by world, we mean a little-known coalition of regulators and lawyers celebrating their quiet battle against counterfeit drug makers.

Here’s a reason for the non-observant to join the festivities: Some $75 billion worth of counterfeit drugs hit the global market each year. These pills often have brand names etched on the outside and chemical imbalances on the inside that are at best, ineffective, and at worst, toxic.

Just how toxic? The Partnership for Safe Medicines, a not-for-profit association of pharmaceutical organizations, has a graphic just in time for the holidays. It shows the full sweep of contaminants that heath officials have discovered in fake pills over the years.

Uranium, of course, is a worst case scenario. Actual contamination rates are hard to measure in an industry that dodges scrutiny for a living. A rough survey by the World Health Organization found that 73% of counterfeit medications contained either the wrong ingredient, the wrong dosage, or no active ingredient, while 8% were laced with impurities and contaminants. Only 15% contained the right dose and the right ingredient. Some sobering figures to contemplate on World Anti—Counterfeit Day, or any day an unaccredited website offers pills at rock-bottom prices.

MORE: The Hidden War: Corporations Fight Against Counterfeiting

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