Antibiotics have hit the black market, and the hot-commodity counterfeits don’t bode well for the health of those who take them.
The pills whose purpose is to fight infection have become so ubiquitous that germs are finding their way around them and becoming increasingly resistant. The result, warns the World Health Organization: the age of the SuperBug.
“Substandard medicines can create resistance, such that the bona fide medicine can’t treat the patient when he gets it eventually,” John Clark, Pfizer’s chief security, told Bloomberg. “It’s a horrific situation.”
The New York City-based corporation is taking steps to combat the crush of counterfeits and is working with Microsoft Corp. to bust businesses cropping up on online pharmacies.
“Because the demand is so high for antibiotics, it’s not unusual to see those who falsify these products concentrate on them,” the World Health Organization’s Michael Deats told Bloomberg.
Deats said the agency has initiated a surveillance program in 80 countries and concluded counterfeit antibiotics are a global problem – one that’s been likened to climate change.
“There is a need for politicians in the UK to prioritize antimicrobial resistance as a major area of concern, including on the national risk register, and pushing for action internationally, as well as in local healthcare services,” England’s Chief Medical Officer Sally Davies told The Independent. “Antimicrobial resistance is a ticking time bomb not only for the UK but also for the world. We need to work with everyone to ensure the apocalyptic scenario of widespread antimicrobial resistance does not become a reality. This threat is arguably as important as climate change.”
An associate director at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention told PBS that antibiotics, which, when they first were invented, transformed the healthcare industry and changed the way doctors treated patients with infections, now face a certain and imminent death.
“For a long time, there have been newspaper stories and covers of magazines that talked about ‘The end of antibiotics, question mark?’ Dr. Arjun Srinivasan said. “Well, now I would say you can change the title to ‘The end of antibiotics, period.’”
Prescription antibiotics long have been losing the battle against bacteria because of overuse, especially in India, which, last year, tightened regulations on sales of over-the-counter antibiotics in response to the growing crisis. The World Health Organization said its surveillance program proves the problem affects all regions and segments of society. It posted a fact sheet about antimicrobial resistance on its Web site, with tips on how consumers can protect themselves and their health if they get an infection. Among them:
- Use antibiotics only if prescribed by a doctor.
- Always complete the full regimen, i.e., take every pill, even if you feel better midway through the bottle.
- Do not share your antibiotics with others.
Other tips on antibiotics safety appear on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Web site, including:
- If you have a cold or flu virus, do not take an antibiotic. Instead, ask your doctor about other methods to treat your symptoms.
- Do not pressure your doctor to prescribe an antibiotic if you do not have a bacterial infection.