Q&A: Counterfeit Chemotherapy Drugs Cause Concern

CURE, Summer 2012, Volume 11, Issue 2

Should cancer patients be concerned with counterfeit drugs?

A: When counterfeit Avastin (bevacizumab) started to show up in cancer treatment facilities around the country, patients, families and those who care for them were left in a state of disbelief ("Counterfeit Version of Avastin in US Distribution"). It is difficult enough receiving treatment for cancer, but wondering whether the right drug is in the vial is beyond anything anyone should have to deal with.

Some cynics say the doctors who bought the drugs should have been forewarned. I suspect those doctors were as shocked as their patients when they learned of the fraud.

The cost of providing cancer treatment in communities around the country is becoming prohibitive. Into this cost-conscious environment, the availability of a less expensive source of a very expensive drug becomes one way to get enough financial margin in the practice so that the practice can continue to function. We may not like to think of it this way, but many of us do the same thing when we try to find the lowest price for a large purchase, such as a car or a major appliance. Into this environment stepped some very greedy people who preyed on patients fighting for their lives.

What’s next?

We now not only have to deal with a shortage of many vital cancer drugs, but we also have to deal with making certain that the journey of those drugs from the manufacturer to the distributor to the doctor or the hospital is carefully monitored and controlled. There may be more investigations followed by regulations to reduce the chances this ever happens again.

Just like many other things in our lives, what we used to accept as routine and essentially guaranteed is no longer as routine and guaranteed as we once thought. And once again, we learn that we are more vulnerable than we ever wanted to think possible. If you are concerned about this, you need to share those concerns with your doctor. They now have the added responsibility to be certain they purchase drugs from reputable sources.

—Len Lichtenfeld, MD, is deputy chief medical officer of the American Cancer Society. Send questions to editor@curetoday.com.