Friday, September 17, 2021

5 Tips on How to Identify Fake Drugs

by | June 6, 2021 12

A Fake drug is a drug product which is not what it purports to be. It is any drug product which is formulated or made to appear to be better than it really is. The term can also refer to a drug which is deliberately and fraudulently mislabeled with respect to identity and/or source or with fake packaging.

The deadly consequences of using counterfeit medicine are well understood to be a challenge to the integrity of public health systems round the globe, and also a threat to our individual health and welfare. The issue of fake drug has persisted despite all efforts by regulatory bodies towards compliance with standards.

As a consumer, you may not have access to most of the test equipment used by regulatory bodies to verify the identity of a drug product as discussed in our previous article “Drug Product Faking: Methods for Testing Counterfeit Drugs”. The following tips will serve as a guide to purchasing genuine drug products.

1. Visual inspection

Visual inspection as stated by the World Health Organization (WHO) (1999) still remains the first step in identifying potential fake drug irrespective of the analytical methods used. This is because such observation serves as a lead to identifying fake products even in the absence of the knowledge of the physical characteristics of a genuine drug product. You are expected to examine carefully both the package and its content before purchase or use.

a. Visual inspection of the Package

You should

  1. Examine the package and check if it appears suspicious or different from what you previously know.
  2. Check if the security seal has been tampered with by looking for breaks or tears in the sealing tape and seals.
  3. Look for unusual fonts, font sizes, print colour, and spelling errors.
  4. Check the legibility of the information on both the primary and secondary packages.
  5. Check if the batch number, expiry date and manufacturer’s address on the secondary package are the same with that on the primary package.
  6. Check if the manufacturer’s address is traceable, that is, if it contains the exact location of the company and not just the country address.
  7. Check if the registration number (NAFDAC number as the case is for products marketed or sold in Nigeria) is properly printed or if it appears to be tampered with.

b. Visual inspection of the Dosage form

At this stage, you are meant to:

  1. Check for differences in the physical appearance (colour uniformity, size, shape, consistency etc.) of the drug. As stated by WHO, commonly encountered physical defects that should be looked out for in tablets include:
    1. Excessive powder and/or pieces of tablets at the bottom of the container (from abraded, crushed or broken tablets);
    2. Cracks or chips in the tablets, swelling, mottling, discolouration, fusion of tablets;
    3. Appearance of crystal on the walls of the container or on the tablet.
    4. Hardening or softening, cracking, swelling, mottling or discolouration of capsule shell should also be looked out for.
  2. Also check the organoleptic properties of the dosage form if you have been using the medication.

2. Mobile Authentication Service using Short Message Service (SMS)

Mobile Authentication Service (MAS) is one of the cutting edge technologies used to curb the menace of fake drugs. It is a technology that has put the power of identifying fake drug products in the hands of many cell phone users.

MAS involves the packaging of drugs with scratch card placed on the package from the point of manufacture. When scratched, the revealed codes could be sent free of charge to 38353 (Sproxil), 38351 (Pharmasecure), 20966 (UBQ), 1393 (Goldkeys) etc., depending on the service the manufacturer chose. Shortly after, the sender receives a reply confirming whether the drug is genuine or fake.

3. Source

The source of the drug also determines if you are buying a fake drug or not. Filling your prescription in a reputable pharmacy greatly reduces your chances of buying fake drugs while buying from illiterate and unqualified vendors who hawk drugs in buses, motor parks and in the streets increases your chances of buying fake drugs.

4. Price

This is another way of identifying fake product. If the price is far cheaper than what is expected, then you have to think twice. However, this may not always be true especially for some products (fake innovator/generic brands) which may be sold at the same price as the genuine one.

5. Unexpected side effect

Counterfeit drugs most of the time contains inert substances other than the appropriate Active Pharmaceutical Ingredient (API). They may also contain incorrect substances, improper dosage or hazardous substances which do no elicit therapeutic effect.

Unusual side effects, allergic reactions, or a worsening of medical condition after taking a medication may be a pointer to identifying a fake drug. The medication should be stopped once any of the above is noticed.


There are a thousand and one counterfeit, gray and substandard drugs in the market today; and the negative impacts of these drugs know no boundaries. Drugs are poisons and care must be taken to avoid fake ones. The tips discussed in this article will not only help reduce your chances of purchasing, using, and suffering the untoward effects of fake drug products but will also save you some money.

You can contribute your quota in fighting the war against counterfeit drugs by sharing this information. Let me know your thoughts in the comment section.


  • Erhun W.O, Erhun M.O, Babalola O.O (2001) Drug Regulation and control in Nigeria: The challenge of counterfeit drugs. Journal of health and population in developing countries, 4 (2): 23-34.
  • Mark D. (2011). Pharmaceutical Anti-Counterfeiting: Combating the Real Danger from Fake Drugs. New Jersey: John Wiley and Sons, Inc.
  • Olike C. (2008).The Fight against Fake Drugs by NAFDAC in Nigeria. 44th International Course in Health Development (ICHD) September 24, 2007 – September 12, 2008 KIT (Royal Tropical Institute) Development Policy & Practice/Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam.

How to Identify Fake Drugs: The article “How to Identify Fake Drugs” serves as a guide to help you detect counterfeit drugs. related keywords: characteristics of fake drugs,how to check if medication is genuine,How to Identify Fake Drugs, how likely is it that a drug you purchase at a pharmacy is genuine, counterfeit drugs statistics, fake medicine in india, what are fake drugs called, fake cipla drugs,How to Identify Fake Drugs, fake medicine word,How can you tell a counterfeit drug? How can I tell if my Adderall is real? What are fake drugs called? How can you prevent fake drugs?


  1. Ndu. O Igwe says:

    Inspiring and educative, a very good knowledge of these can minimise or reduced life loss and complications that arises as a result of fake drug intake mostly by the rural dwellers that have no approved health facilities and qualified medical practioners within and around them.

    • Calistus Ozioko says:

      Thanks for your compliment. You can also contribute your quota in fighting the war against counterfeit drugs by sharing this information with your friends and colleagues.

  2. Ndu. O Igwe says:

    Thanks and keep serving the nation diligently and with sincerity of purpose.

  3. Sandra says:

    Thanks for such tips, I’m grateful

  4. Nirjhar says:

    How to use MAS sms service actually??? Can you please describe???

    • Pharmapproch says:

      Mobile Authentication Service (MAS) involves the packaging of drugs with scratch card placed on the package from the point of manufacture. When scratched, the revealed codes could be sent free of charge to 38353 (Sproxil), 38351 (Pharmasecure), 20966 (UBQ), 1393 (Goldkeys) etc., depending on the service the manufacturer chose. Shortly after, the sender receives a reply confirming whether the drug is genuine or fake.

  5. George T Horvat says:

    I have been on Hydrocodone 10/325 for the last fourteen years. About a year and a half ago there was an abrupt change in the effectiveness of this drug. The only difference was that the pharmacy switched from yellow pills to white pills at that point in time. Now I actually have to take four white pills at a time to get the same results I used to get from one yellow pill. This was an abrupt change in effectiveness, not a gradual one.
    Where can I get one of these white Hydrocodone 10/325 pills analyzed because I believe that they are substandard and are being mislabeled. The problem is that when I have to use more to get the desired results, I am always running out within two weeks rather than four and then I have to suffer with pain that was unnecessary in the past. My doctor says he can’t give me more because I am already at the maximum according to mandated government regulations.

    • Pharmapproach says:

      You can inform the government body empowered to regulate and control the manufacture, importation, exportation, distribution of drugs in your country of residence. They will be in the best position to help you ascertain if the drug is substandard or mislabelled.

  6. Steve Smith says:

    That’s all good advice and obvious to me but what happens when a high street pharmacy gives you a medication in a plain bottle with no box or leaflet and just their own label printed off the computer with your name, med name and dosage etc. Reason I’m asking is methocarbomol supposedly, taken for two weeks and stopped due to sudden drooping eye, slurred speech, trouble with eating due to tongue mobility. Eye pretty much cleared up but after eating every time, and generally after any period of talking slurred speech starts again, clearing later only to return after eating anything. CT and MRI say no problems, ENT say nothing significant. It certainly seems to point to the med’s but without being able to confirm if they are genuine we’re at a loss. Even pharmacies can get fake drugs but how would you know?

    • Pharmapproach says:

      Thanks for your detailed question and uncommon observations.

      A pharmacy that drew a label, stating patient’s name, drug name and dose etc, in this regard, is ethical enough in practice at least on the face of Pharmacopoeal standards.

      However, persistent side effects with or with no structural defects (as noted via CT, MRI and ENT examinations) should be reported to the Pharmacovigilance center for a more extensive and full blown or elaborate studies.

      In most instances, the demography of this sort of case is very small and could have still happened even if the patient has the original drug label.

      The pharmacy, when approached should be able to present the original labels through which the manufacturer could be approached for detailed information on the APIs, excipients and production procedures etc.

      Thanks for reading.

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