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  • Counterfeit medication is a major problem in the U.S. Those looking to sell illicit drugs have been manufacturing counterfeit codeine and counterfeit antibiotics as well as many fake opioid pain medications. 

    It has become its own market and one that law enforcement, the Department of Justice, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) are trying to stop.

    And these counterfeit medications are anything but harmless. Since they are likely sold as if they are the real thing, it can be very difficult to know the dose and what you’re actually taking. Fake codeine and counterfeit medicine can lead to a drug overdose, several adverse side effects, and health issues.

    Fake Codeine In The News

    In the Eastern District of Texas in late 2021, nine people were indicted in a drug trafficking conspiracy. The group was trafficking misbranded and counterfeit promethazine-codeine cough syrup

    They were storing the counterfeit medicine in an actual pharmaceutical facility in Houston, Texas which made it even harder to tell whether it was real or not.

    They also created labels that looked very similar to real cough medicine. The product was distributed in Florida, Louisiana, Ohio, and Texas.

    Common Counterfeit Medicine

    While many medications have a counterfeit version, some are recreated more than others.

    The medications that are counterfeited most often include:

    • chemotherapeutic drugs
    • antibiotics
    • vaccines
    • erectile dysfunction drugs
    • amphetamines or weight loss aids
    • hormones
    • opioid analgesics/painkillers
    • steroids
    • antihistamines
    • antivirals
    • antianxiety drugs

    A lot of these prescription drugs are some of the most expensive and people who can’t afford the real versions sometimes look for less expensive options to help treat their health conditions. 

    Unfortunately, there are plenty of people selling counterfeit drugs who are willing to take their money and not worry about what the fake drug could do to the person taking it.

    Dangers Of Counterfeit Medicine

    Counterfeit drugs, including fake codeine and other illegitimate prescription drugs, can lead to tolerance, dependence, and addiction. 

    If a drug contains meth or cocaine without you knowing, your body could become dependent on the drug and you could become addicted to them over time. This could lead to a substance use disorder for a substance you aren’t even aware you’re taking.

    Overdose Risks

    An overdose is one of the most serious side effects that can come with taking counterfeit drugs like fake codeine. Because you don’t know what the drug is really made of or how much of each ingredient is in it, a fatal overdose can happen quickly if not treated in time.

    For example, if the counterfeit drug you’re taking includes a controlled substance like fentanyl, you could experience:

    • sedation
    • confusion
    • drowsiness
    • dizziness
    • nausea
    • vomiting
    • urinary retention
    • constriction of the pupils
    • respiratory depression

    These overdose symptoms may require immediate medical attention, highlighting the danger of buying counterfeit drugs off the street. 

    Fentanyl-Laced Drugs & Other Additives

    Some fentanyl-laced drugs have been made to look like Norco (hydrocodone), Percocet (oxycodone), and Xanax (alprazolam) and people often take them not knowing what they actually contain. 

    Since fentanyl is a central nervous system depressant, if you take a large enough dose, it could make it difficult to perform basic functions.

    But beyond the illicit drugs that may be in counterfeit medications, they can also include ingredients like brick dust, sheetrock, baking soda, and flour.

    How To Avoid Taking Counterfeit Medicine

    The only way to truly avoid taking fake codeine or other fake prescription medication is to get your medication from a trusted source. If you get a prescription from your doctor and fill it at a reputable pharmacy, you won’t have to worry too much about counterfeit medicine.

    If you want to be sure your pharmacy is legitimate, make sure they require a doctor’s prescription and have a physical address and telephone number in the United States.

    If you or a loved one live with prescription drug addiction or abuse, please contact us today to learn about our inpatient and outpatient treatment centers.

    Written by Ark Behavioral Health Editorial Team
    ©2024 Ark National Holdings, LLC. | All Rights Reserved.
    This page does not provide medical advice.
    Medically Reviewed by
    Kimberly Langdon M.D.
    on October 20, 2022
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