BPS says health and lives of Barbadians being put at risk

The island’s umbrella body for pharmacists is setting up a monitoring unit to help shut down unlicensed prescription drug retailers whose operations are said to be posing a serious threat to the health and well-being of Barbadians.

President of the Barbados Pharmaceutical Society (BPS) Yolan Pantin has also warned that counterfeit Pfizer medications making the rounds on the world market could slip into the island.

She said the organisation is particularly worried that people who are not licensed to sell prescription drugs are now making a business out of dispensing pharmaceuticals that should only be sold by pharmacies.

“We have a lot of people posting these things on Facebook, getting them in and selling them. That is where my worry is,” she told Barbados TODAY.

“Things that are supposed to be sold in the pharmacies, like the generic Viagra which is called Sildenafil, are being peddled by these people. A guy actually popped up on my social media page telling me he is selling Kamagra. I said ‘are you a licensed pharmaceutical distributor?’ He said ‘no, I just bringing it in’. So I informed him that it is a pharmaceutical-only medication, that it can cause heart attacks and arrhythmia. ‘Wuh you doing selling it and why?’ Obviously, after that it was deleted,” Pantin recalled.

“Not only are the counterfeit pharmaceuticals happening, but the generics of these types of drugs are also floating around and being sold on the streets of Barbados. Pharmaceutical-grade steroid creams are being sold in beauty supply stores in Barbados and we do not have enough drug inspectors at the Barbados Drug Service (BDS) to actually police all of these places,” she added.

Against that background, the BPS head said her organisation has decided to give the Drug Service a helping hand by doing its own evidence-gathering for submission to the state entity for action.

“So, we have gone in and taken pictures of the drugs that we know are not to be sold by anybody over the counter in a beauty supply store because of how dangerous they are to a person’s skin if they are not prescribed for the patient by a dermatologist . . . and all of the other things that we know that are supposed to be done,” Pantin disclosed.

“They are selling them as bleaching creams that can actually cause the skin to thin and break and never heal.  The pharmacists usually have to go and see those things to assist the Barbados Drug Service and the inspectorate who are stretched. I go and purchase it myself, with the receipt that has on the name of the company and I will carry it to the Barbados Drug Service and say this is what I just bought and from where so that the inspectorate will have proof they can go and work with.”

Warning that there were “people coming into the island and bringing things into the island to make a quick buck and practically going to be killing people”, Pantin said the BPS’ executive has discussed establishing a monitoring system that would provide added policing capacity, with a view to putting the unlicensed operators out of business.

“The executive has discussed the formation of a Pharmaco Vigilant Network among the pharmacists of Barbados and giving them directives on how they should go about doing like what I did so that we can get all of this shut down…. I know of somebody that went to a pharmacy to offer to sell them generic Viagra. Imagine that! They actually are getting these things and want to approach a pharmacy so a pharmacy can buy it from them,” she told Barbados TODAY.

Concern about the potential for dangerous counterfeit drugs to slip into Barbados was triggered by a 60 Minutes on CBS News special report in which police officers made a surprise raid on an indoor market in Lima, Peru, and found hundreds of thousands of fake prescription drugs before being led to a bogus pharmaceutical factory that turned out massive amounts of antibiotics and other medications for the treatment of non-communicable diseases.

John Clarke, who heads Pfizer’s global security team that tracks down criminals around the world, said counterfeit Pfizer drugs have made their way to pharmacies and hospitals in at least 46 different countries around the world, including England, Canada, and the United States.

It is this that has the BPS on edge.

“We have to be not complacent with this situation because it can cause a lot of problems,” Patin cautioned. “We have to look at the companies that bring in pharmaceuticals. We do have smaller companies bringing medication into the island because the larger companies had stopped bringing in particular drugs that are still being requested by physicians.”

She expressed particular concern that the packaging and branding of the fakes are so identical to the genuine products, that even medical and health officials could be fooled.

“The packaging is immaculate. The packaging actually makes you think that it’s the actual drug. And if we don’t do some stringent testing… if larger organisations bring in pharmaceuticals and we don’t test, we are going to have problems with something like that getting away and getting into our pharmaceutical system,” the BPS president declared.

She urged the BDS to tighten its testing regime for all pharmaceuticals entering Barbados.

“As far as I know, we don’t have any counterfeit drugs arriving in Barbados but things can slip in,” she said.
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