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Counterfeit medicines, from headache pills to cancer drugs, have become a multibillion-dollar problem




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  • Counterfeit drugs that have little or no medicinal value, and in some cases can cause harm, have become a multibillion-dollar problem worldwide.
  • Remembering Joe Schlesinger.
  • Missed The National last night? Watch it here.

Fake drugs

The World Health Organization is warning cancer patients in North America and Europe about a batch of fake drugs that contain nothing but a common painkiller.

The product alert, released earlier this month, says that counterfeit medicine packaged to look like the cancer drug Iclusig, known generically as ponatinib — a targeted therapy for chronic myeloid and acute lymphoblastic leukaemia — simply contains acetaminophen.

The fakes, first discovered by a Swiss wholesaler, have also been detected in Turkey and Argentina. They were being sold online at a fraction of the more than $16,000 US that American pharmacies currently charge for a one-month supply of the drug.

Counterfeit or substandard pharmaceuticals are a big business, worth an estimated $200 billion US a year.

In sub-Saharan Africa, for example, where the bulk of the fakes are sold, the WHO estimates that as many as 116,000 people die due to ineffective malaria medication each year. It adds that the counterfeits are adding hundreds of millions to health care costs, due to the treatment and hospitalization of people who might not have otherwise been infected.

Bottles of counterfeit Viagra, confiscated by U.S. Customs and Border Protections. Counterfeit or substandard pharmaceuticals are a big business, worth an estimated $200 billion US a year worldwide. (Lucas Jackson/Reuters)

A week-long, Interpol-coordinated blitz last fall saw authorities in 116 countries seize 500 tonnes of fake pharmaceuticals worth an estimated $14 million US. The haul included anti-inflammatory medication, birth control pills, and counterfeit treatments for HIV, Parkinson’s and diabetes. (Investigators also found more than 110,000 fake medical devices like hearing aids, contact lens and syringes.) The seizures resulted in 859 arrests and the closure of 3,671 weblinks.

In recent years, Health Canada has been waging a battle against counterfeit Viagra, Cialis and Levitra — sometimes containing too little of the active ingredient, and sometimes too much. All of it widely available online at a steep discount from the $15 per prescription pill.

Authorities in Scotland and Northern Ireland are currently dealing with a spate of overdose deaths linked to fake Valium and Xanax. The pills, which are being pressed in the U.K. from materials made in Far East drug labs, differ dramatically in strength with every batch, and sometimes contain entirely differently sedatives than the brand names.

No one is quite sure how to best tackle the global fake drug crisis.

Workers pile 50 tonnes of fake medicine for incineration after it was confiscated in Abidjan in 2017. Several nations around the world are turning to tracking systems to help buyers and sellers determine whether medicine is genuine. (Sia Kambou/AFP/Getty Images)

West African nations are talking about creating their own pharmaceutical firms to try ensure that quality products make it to local markets. Kenyan authorities plan to roll out a system of country-specific codes that pharmacists and consumers can track via a smartphone app, ensuring that they are selling and buying real, government-approved medicine.  

Some believe that blockchain systems might provide the answer, documenting every step of a drug’s journey from manufacturer to consumer.

Although it’s unclear if any technology will ever be able to trump politics.

This past weekend, the European Union finally debuted its own continent-wide system to fight and track fake drugs, which has been more than four years in the making.

But the U.K. will no longer have access come March 30, if it fails to reach a Brexit divorce agreement.

Almost three-quarters of the prescription drugs used by the National Health Service are made in Europe.

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A few words on … 

Duelling protests.

In memoriam

Quote of the moment

“I am aware that many Canadian wish me to speak on matters that have been in the media over the last week. I am in the midst of obtaining advice on the topics that I am legally permitted to discuss.”

– Part of a statement issued by Jody Wilson-Raybould this morning, announcing her resignation from Justin Trudeau’s cabinet, and the hiring of a lawyer to advise her on her next steps in the SNC-Lavalin affair.

Jody Wilson-Raybould resigned from federal cabinet this morning. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

What The National is reading

  • El Chapo convicted in trial that revealed drug cartel’s brutality (NY Times)
  • Twitter trolls stoked debates about immigrants, pipelines in Canada, data shows (CBC)
  • World is facing ‘environmental breakdown,’ study warns (RTE)
  • Turkey orders 1,112 arrests, alleging links to failed 2016 coup (CBC)
  • Buy newspapers, slash jobs, sell buildings: a hedge fund’s ‘mercenary’ strategy (Washington Post)
  • Coffee prices predicted to rise nearly 25 per cent by year-end (Reuters)
  • Strep A kills half a million people a year. Why don’t we have a vaccine? (Digg)
  • Baby removed from womb for surgery, then put back (Telegraph)
  • Katy Perry ‘saddened’ as her shoe line is taken off shelves for being racist (Sky News)

Today in history

Feb. 12, 1995: Icewine, a Canadian phenomenon

A Grand Prix D’Honneur at VinExpo in Bordeaux, France, in 1991 gave Inniskillin and the rest of the Canadian icewine industry instant global credibility. Tens of millions of bottles of the ultra-sweet dessert tipple have since been sold, and are recirculated every Christmas.

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Health Ranger posts new microscopy photos of covid swabs, covid masks and mysterious red and blue fibers




(Natural News) What follows is a series of microscopy photos of covid swabs (a synthetic swab, then a cotton swab), a covid mask and some zoomed-in photos of mysterious red and blue fibers found in the masks.

The magnification range for these photos is 50X to 200X. Most were taken with white light, but several (as indicated) were taken with UV light.

The images shown here are 600 pixels wide. We have higher resolution images available to researchers and indy media journalists; contact us for those hi-res images.

More microscopy investigations are under way, and new images will be posted as they are finalized.

First, this series shows the carbon fiber layer of a covid mask, illuminated with UV light:

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5,800 test positive, 74 die of coronavirus at least 14 days after getting fully vaccinated




(Natural News) The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on Thursday, April 15, confirmed some 5,800 breakthrough coronavirus (COVID-19) cases in the U.S.

A breakthrough COVID-19 case is defined as someone who has detectable levels of SARS-CoV-2 – the virus that causes COVID-19 – at least 14 days after getting fully vaccinated against the disease.

Nearly 400 breakthrough cases required treatment at hospitals and 74 died. A little over 40 percent of the infections were in people 60 years and above and 65 percent were female. About 29 percent of the vaccine breakthrough infections were reportedly asymptomatic. The figures were for cases through April 13.

CDC Director Rochelle Walensky told a congressional hearing on Thursday that the causes of the breakthrough cases are being probed. “Some of these breakthroughs are, of course, failure of an immune response in the host. And then some of them we worry might be related to a variant that is circulating. So we’re looking at both,” she said.

The CDC is monitoring reported cases “for clustering by patient demographics, geographic location, time since vaccination, vaccine type or lot number, and SARS-CoV-2 lineage.” It has created a national COVID-19 vaccine breakthrough database, where state health departments can enter, store and manage data for cases in their region.

Where available, respiratory specimens that tested positive for COVID-19 will be collected for genomic sequencing “to identify the virus lineage that caused the infection.”

Positive test less than two weeks after getting fully vaccinated is not a breakthrough case

The number of cases the CDC has identified does not include people who contracted COVID-19 less than two weeks after their final dose. The two-week marker is important, said infectious disease expert Dr. Amesh Adalja, senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security.

A human body should have enough time to develop antibodies to SARS-CoV-2 after that timeframe. Before then, a person won’t necessarily have the built-up immunity needed to fight off an infection. According to Dr. Adalja, cases that occur before the two-week mark are not considered breakthrough cases.

Dr. Adalja also noted that more research is needed to determine if highly infectious variants of the virus are behind the breakthrough cases. “It is crucial to study breakthrough cases to understand their severity, their contagiousness and what role variants may be playing,” Dr. Adalja said.

More than 78 million people have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19 in the U.S. as of April 15.

“To date, no unexpected patterns have been identified in case demographics or vaccine characteristics,” the CDC said in a statement. “COVID-19 vaccines are effective and are a critical tool to bring the pandemic under control.”

But the CDC conceded that “thousands of vaccine breakthrough cases will occur even though the vaccine is working as expected.”

Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious disease specialist and professor at the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, agreed with the CDC. “These vaccines that we’re using are fabulous but they’re not perfect,” he said. “At best, they’re 95 percent effective in preventing serious illness, but minor illnesses can occur.”

According to U.S. drug regulators, Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine is 95 percent effective in preventing infection. Moderna’s was shown in a clinical trial to be 94.1 percent effective while Johnson & Johnson’s was 66.9 percent effective. Only Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which received its emergency use authorization from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on Feb. 27, was tested when variants were circulating.

The percentages are based on results from vaccine recipients two weeks after the final vaccination.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, stated in a briefing last week that the breakthrough cases are not a cause for concern.

“I think the important thing is to look at what the denominator of vaccinated people is. Because it is very likely that the number of breakthrough cases is not at all incompatible with the 90-plus percent vaccine efficacy,” he said. “So I don’t think that there needs to be concern about any shift or change in the efficacy of the vaccine.”

More info needed before drawing conclusions from breakthrough cases

The percentage of vaccine breakthroughs in a population depends on multiple factors, including vaccine efficacy, the amount of virus circulating and the length of time since vaccination, according to Natalie Dean, an assistant professor of biostatistics at the University of Florida.

“I love to see small numbers as much as anyone, but know that numbers like this cannot be directly interpreted as a measure of vaccine efficacy (although I have a feeling they will be). We can only interpret them against a background rate in unvaccinated people,” Dean wrote on Twitter.

“Similarly, ‘most breakthroughs have been in elderly adults’ should not be read as the vaccine is less effective in elderly adults. The majority of vaccinations (and the longest amount of follow-up time) have been in elderly adults. Again, we need more info to interpret.”

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More people died from fentanyl overdose than coronavirus in San Francisco last year




(Natural News) More people died from fentanyl overdose than coronavirus (COVID-19) in San Francisco last year, a microcosm of a larger nationwide problem coinciding with the pandemic.

Data from San Francisco’s Office of the Chief Medical Examiner shows that 708 people were killed by fentanyl in 2020, an astonishing 118 times more since the introduction of the drug in the city just five years earlier.

That figure nearly tripled the 254 COVID-19 deaths recorded in the city for the whole of last year. More than 8 in 10 deaths were male, and just under half were white. People aged 55 to 64 made up nearly a quarter of the fatalities. Nearly 40 percent of the deaths occurred in open-air drug markets such as the Tenderloin and South of Market.

The number of overdose deaths in the city could have been far worse as more than 3,000 addicts suffering from an overdose were administered with naloxone, the lifesaving medication that reverses overdoses.

San Francisco’s death rate from fentanyl overdose continues to rise this year as 135 died by overdose in January and February, putting the city on pace for more than 800 deaths by the end of the year.

The city has become a significant part of a larger trend. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released data on Wednesday, April 14, showing that more than 87,000 Americans died from drug overdose over the 12-month period that ended in September last year – the highest since the opioid epidemic began in the 1990s.

Lockdowns lead to more cases of drug overdose

The surge represents an increasingly urgent public health crisis that may be correlated to the government’s monotonous battle plan against the COVID-19 pandemic.

On March 19 last year, California became the first state in the U.S. to implement a stay-at-home order. It subsequently endured the longest lockdown of any state in the country.

The pandemic and accompanying lockdowns are believed to be partly responsible for the soaring number of drug deaths for obvious reasons. Lockdowns have badly disrupted the social services in the city, including drug addiction treatment. Drug experts say the isolation of the past 12 months is causing vulnerable residents to turn to opioids.

“We see the death and devastation getting worse right in front of us,” said Matt Haney, San Francisco Board of Supervisors member. “It’s an unprecedented spiraling, directly connected to the introduction of fentanyl in our city.”

Fentanyl first appeared on the streets of San Francisco in 2015. There were just six deaths from the synthetic opioid that year, 12 deaths in 2016 and 37 deaths in 2017. The figure skyrocketed when the drugs became widely available in the city in 2018.

Kristen Marshall, manager of the national drug harm reduction DOPE Project, noted the grim irony that while social isolation could save lives from COVID-19, it had undoubtedly contributed to the number of overdose deaths.

“Isolation is also the thing that puts people at the absolute highest risk of overdose death,” she said.

Pandemic exacerbates rise in deaths from drug overdose

The number of deaths from drug overdose started rising in the months leading up to the coronavirus pandemic, making it hard to gauge how closely the two phenomena are linked. But the pandemic unquestionably exacerbated the trend. The biggest jump in overdose deaths took place in April and May when fear and stress were rampant, job losses were multiplying and the strictest lockdown measures were in effect.

Many treatment programs closed during that time while drop-in centers, which provide support, clean syringes and naloxone, cut back services.

The data released by the CDC shows a 29 percent rise in overdose deaths from October 2019 through September 2020 compared with the previous 12-month period. Illicitly manufactured fentanyl and other synthetic opioids were the primary drivers, although many fatal overdoses have also involved stimulant drugs like methamphetamine.

Unlike in the early years of the opioid epidemic, when deaths were largely among white Americans in rural and suburban areas, the current crisis is affecting Black Americans disproportionately.

“The highest increase in mortality from opioids, predominantly driven by fentanyl, is now among Black Americans,” Dr. Nora Volkow, the director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, said at a national addiction conference last week.

“And when you look at mortality from methamphetamine, it’s chilling to realize that the risk of dying from methamphetamine overdose is 12-fold higher among American Indians and Alaskan Natives than other groups.”

Dr. Volkow added that more deaths than ever involved drug combinations, typically of fentanyl or heroin with stimulants.

“Dealers are lacing these non-opioid drugs with cheaper, yet potent, opioids to make a larger profit,” she said. “Someone who’s addicted to a stimulant drug like cocaine or methamphetamine is not tolerant to opioids, which means they are going to be at high risk of overdose if they get a stimulant drug that’s laced with an opioid like fentanyl.”

The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) supported Dr. Volkow’s claim, saying that transnational criminal organizations cause a spike in overdoses by mixing fentanyl into illicit narcotics.

According to the DEA, Mexican cartels often purchase the drug components in China and use human mules to smuggle the narcotics to lucrative drug markets north of the border.

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