There was a talk given at a recent conference by a man named Rick Roberts, who has been a victim of both drug shortages and counterfeit drugs. Mr. Roberts grew up in small town in the US. Due to health problems, he had an inhaler from age one. Because of this, he had many trips to the pharmacy growing up and became very interested in the field, eventually deciding he wanted to be a pharmacist.
Mr. Roberts went to college in San Francisco, California, and unfortunately contracted HIV. This was in 1984, at which time AZT was the only drug available to treat HIV. This medicine was in very short supply, and it was difficult for Mr. Roberts and his friends to procure regular dosages. The families of patients who died would disperse their remaining supplies of AZT to friends of the deceased who were also HIV+. Mr. Roberts said the greatest gift he has ever received was from a friend who knew he was going to die very soon; this person stopped taking AZT but continued to get the prescriptions filled and stockpiled them away. Mr. Roberts was designated the recipient of this stockpile upon the death of his friend.
Over the years, therapies for HIV have improved, but people in Mr. Roberts situation face new threats aside from the scientific difficulties of treating their condition. Mr. Roberts and his doctor have experimented with a wide variety of different treatments, attempting and generally failing to find an effective treatment. They finally found one that seemed to be working, as Mr. Roberts viral count began to drop noticeably. After the second fill of the prescription however, Mr. Roberts viral count began to climb again. On his third batch of prescription, Mr. Roberts contacted the FDA, suspicious of the medicine, and learned that he had actually received counterfeit drugs containing no active ingredient in his second and third prescriptions. His drugs had come from a bona fide pharmacist, prescribed by a bona fide physician. Unfortunately this situation occurs more frequently than most people are aware, and is one of the primary reasons the pharmaceutical industry is so heavily regulated. Often times we lose sight of the fact that regulatory efforts are carried out with the purpose of protecting the end user from harm, and that our efforts can prevent harm to countless individuals around the world.