By Roger Bate, American Enterprise Institute
Chloroquine products are in high demand since President Trump touted them as possible treatment for the coronavirus in March. Original research done by the Safe Medicines Coalition, of which I’m a member, shows that fake versions of these products have reached the US market via rogue web pharmacies. Approximately 15 percent of samples (7 of 47) from non-credentialed web pharmacies failed assessment with a handheld spectrometer.
None of the samples from credentialed web pharmacies failed the assessment. The takeaway is clear: buying chloroquine from non-credentialed web sites carries a great risk.
Chloroquine products have been used to treat malaria for decades. I’ve used them myself when I had the disease 16 years ago. They are also used to treat lupus and rheumatoid arthritis today. They have side effects and can be fatal in high doses, so it’s a bad idea to take them for any reason without consulting a doctor. While President Trump later qualified his enthusiasm for chloroquine as a COVID-19 treatment with this advice, it hasn’t stopped many people from trying to obtain these medicines online.
Here’s what that could look like.
We bought chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine from 14 web pharmacies that are credentialed by PharmacyChecker.com or the Canadian Internet Pharmacy Association. We tested these products with a handheld spectrometer, and found no fakes. We also bought from two dozen web pharmacies that were not credentialed by any public or private group. In this latter group, we received 47 treatments. Seven contained no active ingredient and were almost certainly fake. They would not have treated malaria or lupus, and may even have proved fatal. Many fakes often contain heavy metal contaminants, since the criminal organizations making them use the cheapest ingredients, like road paint, to make them look real.
The fakes were slightly cheaper on average than the real products, but not enough for price to be a useful guide. A much larger and stratified sample by manufacturer and location of manufacture would provide a more reliable indicator of quality and the likelihood of buying fake chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine over the net. But this small convenience sample clearly shows that fakes are making their way into the US marketplace.
If you want to buy chloroquine products on the web, you’d better be sure they’re coming from a legitimate credentialed source. The coronavirus might not kill you, but fake chloroquine products might.
Roger Bate is a visiting scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and a member of the Safe Medicines Coalition.