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Pfizer medical director David Grolman explains how to identify counterfeit Viagra.Video: Pfizer medical director David Grolman explains how to identify counterfeit Viagra. (ABC News)

Related Story: TGA plans to cut staff despite threat from fake Viagra, weight loss pills

Map: Sydney 2000

Thousands of counterfeit prescription pills made their way into Australia's official supply chain and ended up at a children's hospital in Sydney, an investigation has found.

Key points:

  • Counterfeit pharmaceuticals were discovered in a children's hospital
  • Health department says the fakes were found before being given to patients
  • Pharmacist who supplied the drugs is fighting the cancellation of his licence

The details of the 2010 incident have only recently come to light, as the pharmacist who supplied the fakes fights the cancellation of his licence.

A staff member at the Sydney Children's Hospital in Randwick was crushing Viagra tablets, which can be used to treat children with pulmonary hypertension, when she noticed something different about the pills.

"What [she] noticed was that the consistency of the tablets wasn't normal. It appeared to be a bit grittier than normal," Bruce Battye, the NSW deputy chief pharmacist said.

The hospital pharmacist phoned the manufacturer Pfizer to raise her concerns. Pfizer told her she had a counterfeit product.

When the counterfeits were analysed, authorities found they did not contain enough sildenafil.

NSW Health insisted the fakes were found before any were given to patients, but doctors said there could have been serious consequences had babies been treated with the counterfeits.

"[It's] extremely alarming that this happened," Mr Battye said.

Pharmacist fighting to reinstate licence in court

The counterfeit Viagra was unknowingly supplied by Symbion, one of Australia's biggest medical distributors.

In the three months leading up to the incident in June 2010, Symbion distributed more than 20,000 Viagra pills.

One of its suppliers was licensed pharmacist Mina Attia, who had sold Symbion fakes.

 Mina Attia Photo: Mina Attia is fighting the cancellation of his registration as a pharmacist in the NSW Supreme Court. (ABC News)

Following a lengthy investigation, Mr Attia had his registration as a pharmacist cancelled, but he is currently fighting that decision in the NSW Supreme Court.

He bought the drugs from an unlicensed supplier who sold stock from an unmarked van.

But Mr Attia told investigators he believed the pills were genuine, because they looked exactly the same as regular Viagra.

As soon as the counterfeits were discovered at the children's hospital, Symbion issued a voluntary recall of all the Viagra it had distributed since its supply had become contaminated.

It had sent the stock to more than 260 pharmacies, as well as three other hospitals. The company is refusing to name those hospitals and the regulator said it did not know where it all went.

"The TGA [Therapeutic Goods Administration] electronic recall records do not include names of the three hospitals," a TGA spokeswoman said.

Symbion said it had learnt from the incident and now only bought pharmaceuticals directly from the manufacturer.

The TGA said it had no record of any other counterfeit drugs entering the official supply chain.

'A major concern'

Counterfeit drugs can contain dangerous substances like rat poison, says Pfizer medical director David Grolman.Video: Counterfeit drugs can contain dangerous substances like rat poison, says Pfizer medical director David Grolman. (ABC News)

Last year an Australian government operation made close to 90 seizures of illegal pills, potions and injectable drugs in a single month.

But expert Ken Gamble, who has tracked drug counterfeiters all over the world for major pharmaceutical clients, said that was likely to be a small fraction of what was coming in.

"I don't think a lot of it is being detected," he said.

"We have done a number of orders into Australia doing trap purchases, test buys — none of our orders have been stopped. So, that's an indication they're not getting everything by any means.

"Antibiotics, anti-inflammatory drugs, you see them pfizer viagra for children all. Even some of the well-known sleeping tablets, but the big business, the big money is in sexual enhancement."

Most of the fake products are produced by syndicates in Asia and Latin America. Many contain the active ingredients — in varying doses.

Those who have seen the set-ups firsthand say the online counterfeits are not worth the risk.

"You are playing with your life if you buy it online," Mr Gamble said.

"There have been known cases of lead and other chemicals that are not supposed to be in there that have been out in the drugs by accident.

"So if it's in fact getting through to chemists or pharmacies or even wholesalers, that would be a major concern because it would put it out there all over the marketplace."

Topics: chemicals-and-pharmaceuticals, health, pharmaceuticals, healthcare-facilities, sydney-2000


Source: http://www.abc.net.au/news/2017-02-22/pharmacist-fights-for-licence-over-fake-viagra-found-at-hospital/8292814


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