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Swiss drug maker Roche is warning doctors, hospitals, and patient groups that a counterfeit version of its widely used cancer drug, Avastin, has been found in the U.S.

Tests of counterfeit vitals indicated that they did not contain the active ingredient used in the cancer drug. At this point, it is not clear how much of the counterfeit product was distributed in the U.S. or whether it has caused any harm. The FDA has not received any reports of side effects linked to the counterfeit product, but has sent letters warning medical practices that might have purchased counterfeit Avastin.

As a personal injury lawyer, I feel this incident highlights the growing danger of counterfeit and mislabeled medications in the U.S. Many Americans are unaware that any drug, whether prescription or over-the-counter, is susceptible to be either counterfeited or mislabeled, which could lead to various hazardous results. For instance, when a drug is counterfeited or mislabeled, a patient with a severe allergy to a particular ingredient could unknowingly ingest that ingredient if it is contained in the counterfeit or mislabeled drug.

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Drug Maker Novartis recalled popular drugs including Excedrin, Bufferin, NoDoz and Gas-X. The Food and Drug Administration and Novartis are warning consumers that these over-the-counter medications may be mixed up with powerful painkillers such as Percocet.

Officials became aware of the error following hundreds of complaints about “broken or incorrect tablets winding up in pill bottles.” While no injuries resulting from the mix-up have been reported at this point, accidental ingestion of prescription-only, narcotic painkillers could cause very serious injuries or even death.

According to a CBS News report, "The FDA and Endo Pharmaceuticals recommend patients examine their prescriptions to make sure the tablets are similar in shape, color, size and marking. If one or more of the tablets look different, patients should return the medicine to their pharmacist."

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A new phenomenon in the recreational drug market centers around “synthetic substances that mimic marijuana, cocaine and other illegal drugs.” (J. Salter, J. Suhr, AP Iowa, 4/6). These synthetic substances are unsafe and have made users across the country extremely ill, causing labored breathing, rapid heart rate, paranoia, hallucinations, seizures, and even deaths. As a Chicago products liability attorney, I encourage everyone to stay away from these unsafe substances.

These products are inexpensive, only widening their appeal, and are often deceptively “packaged as incense or bath salts.” As more consumers experiment with these substances, hospitals are reporting a sharp spike in Emergency Room visits resulting from usage.

The American Association of Poison Control Centers has nationwide figures on calls related to synthetic drugs, and made some startling findings. Last year, 3,200 hospital cases related to synthetic drug use were reported. In just the first three months of 2011, 2,700 cases are known, leading to predictions that the number of medical emergencies could increase nearly fivefold by the end of 2011. To avoid serious personal injuries, please stay away from these dangerous substances.

With the U.S. obesity rates approaching 35 percent of adults, many are excited to get “their first extensive look at the first of a trio of new weight loss drugs this week. The hope is that the new drugs can succeed where many others have failed: delivering significant weight loss without risky side effects.” (Matthew Perrone, Washington AP, 7/12).

As a personal injury and products liability attorney in Chicago, I am always skeptical of new drugs, and weight loss drugs in general, especially since “two of the drugs submitted for approval simply combine existing drugs - an anticonvulsant and an amphetamine - but have worrying side effects. The third, a new medication, is safer but less effective.” Results of the FDA review are due shortly.

The obesity endemic in this country is certainly troubling, but, as always, proper and thorough testing of impending drugs is necessary.

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