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Health Tips / Articles:

Cures that kill

In 2007, more than 350 people in Panama died because of a cough syrup. The reason: diethylene glycol, an industrial solvent not approved not approved for human consumption, had been added in the drug as a substitute for the more expensive but safer glycerin.

Here in the Philippines, a 41 year old woman died from uterine atony while four others had to have emergency hysterectomies because of substandard medicine dispensed from a hospital pharmacy.

Substandard drugs continue to be a major health risk for communities worldwide. They are defined by the World Health Organization as genuine drug products which do not meet quality specifications set for them.

What causes a drug to become substandard? These are two common reasons: the first could be poor manufacturing practices by the creator of the medicine; the other is that a good quality product deteriorates due to improper distribution or storage conditions.

Here in the Philippines, drug manufacturers are required to get a GMP or Good Manufacturing Practices certification, which follows the harmonized Asean (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) standards, as proof they are capable of producing safe and efficacious drugs just like the innovator brands.

GMP covers all aspects of production - from the raw materials and the procedure up to the personnel, environment and equipment used in making the drug.

Among the things that could happen if a manufacturer does not have good quality control ranges from the contamination of products, causing damage to health; incorrect labels on containers, which could mean that patients receive the wrong medicines; insufficient packaging that could lead to the deterioration of the product or even insufficient or too much active ingredient, resulting in ineffective treatment or adverse effects.

Substandard drugs can also result from poor distribution and storage. Manufacturers need to ensure that they have trustworthy distributor and vendors who will safeguard the stability of their medicines since factors like temperature and humidity can actually affect the quality of medicines.

It pays to be vigilant when it is your health or that of your loved ones that is at risk. Protect yourself from substandard medicines and the dangers they bring.

One way is for consumers to consult their doctor before taking any unfamiliar medicine. Physicians are often presented with evidence of a drug's effectiveness by pharmaceutical companies; and they can also draw on the knowledge of fellow doctors and the experiences of their other patients to catch news of substandard drugs.

Another tip for consumers is to purchase their medicine in reputable drugstores - these usually have better storage facilities and also have rapid turnover that helps ensure that the medicines they dispense are new.

- By Antonio F. Katigbak
- Philippine Star / Health and Medicine section
- March 2, 2009