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Drug adulteration and Counterfeiting

Israel Olatunji           



DEFINITION: An adulteration means a process of addition of impure, cheap and filthy substances to genuine drug in order to get more profits. The adulterants may not have pharmacological or therapeutic properties.



Due to increased drug price;   Due to scarcity of drug;

Due to improper knowledge;   in order to get more profits;


Methods of adulteration:

A} Deterioration: impairment of quality of drug.

B} Admixture: in this method one type of drug is admixed with another one. this is mostly occurred due to improper knowledge.

C} Sophistication: in this type adulteration may done due to get more profits.

D} Substitution: in this method addition of completely different drugs in place of genuine drug.

E} Inferiority: in this the crude drug have less standard limit.

F} Spoilage: it occurs due to improper storage and also due to microbes.



Adulteration may take place by two ways:

1} undeliberate or unintentional adulteration; 2} deliberate or intentional adulteration.

undeliberate or unintentional adulteration:

Unintended adulteration which sometimes occurs without bad intension of the manufacture or supplier.

  1. Faulty collection of crude drugs:

Certain drugs are collected in specific season only, if not then the conc. Of chemical constituents may be vary;

DRUG                                                 COLLECTION SEASON
Wild cherry bark Autumn
Colchicum corn Early summer
Male fern Late autumn
Solanaceous leaves Summer
Cinnamon bark Rainy season


With this parameter we should remember that the stage of drug collection from plant;

linseed when fully ripen
coriander When fully grown and ripen
Solanaceous leaves Flowering stage
Opium capsules Maturing stage
Belladona root At 3-4 years old
Wild cherry bark Young stems
  1. Imperfect preparation:

While preparation of crude drugs it should be considered the step of collection which reflects the economical state adulteration place by collection of undesirable and inert part  instead of desired part;


ipecac Roots and rhizomes Arial stem
fennel fruit Undeveloped fruit
saffron Style and stigma tops Parts of corolla
ginger rhizome Curt
pyrethrum Flower heads Stem & leaf
  • Improper drying:

Faulty inadequate drying may cause adulteration;


Digitalis leaves When leaves dried enzyme degrades the glycosides  content
Corn of colchicum Above 65’c temp.,hydrolyses the drug
Cod liver oil High heat for oil to saparate from liver lead to decrease the conc. Of vit.A


  1. Improper storage and maintenance:

Storage conditions also effect the quality of drug improper storage may leads to spoilage:

volatile oil In closed container stored in dark room
Cod liver oil Stored in amberd colored bottles
Ergot Protected from moulds
Belladona leaves Moisture free containers
Sqill & digitalis Any place
Male form Dry place
Coffee Avoid over heating

Intentional or deliberate adulteration:

In this type, adulteration is done by mankind in order to get more profits.

  1. Substitution with inferior quality:

Ideal properties of substituent;

  • It shows similar morphology with crude drug.
  • It should cheaply available.
  • Non toxic in nature.
  • Compatible with crude drug.


Indian senna Arabian senna,dog senna
Gentian Picrorrhea,curroa
Tragacanth Hog Tragacanth
trichunous nuxvomica



Trichunous nuxblenda,strichnous nuxblenda
  1. Substitution with exhausted crude drugs:


Many drugs are extracted in large scale for the  isolation of active constituent extraction process may doesn’t change morphology of drug and the extracted drug is called exhausted drug.there is a chance to adultrate crude genuine drug with it.

Clove oil With clove stem oil
Coriander Oil from fruits
Cinnamon Oil from leaves
Peppermint oil Cornmint oil
  1. Substitution with similar morphology: In this type drugs are sdultrated with similar morphology containing drugs;
Saffron Dried flowers of cartnomous tinctoris
Myrrh Sented bedilum
Clove Clove stocks
Tragacanth gum Sterculia gum
Stromonium Leaves of xanthium
Bees wax Japanees wax
  1. Substitution with artifecially manufactured substances:


Some artificial agents are manufactured to get adultration with crude drugs.

Bees wax Yellow paraffin
Coffee Compressed chicory
Honey Invert sugar
Nutmeg Pieces of vass wood
Balasum of peru Addition of benzyl benzoate
Citrous oil Citral
Methyl salicylates Gluteria oil
  1. Substitution with harmfull substances:


In this method defective and harmfull substances are admixed with unorganized drugs;

Colophony Pieces of ambere colored glass
Opium Lead shots
Cardamom seeds Rodent fecal matter
Coconut oil White oil
Asafoitida Lime stone pieces
Cocoa butter Paraffin
  1. Substitution of powders:

Powdered verities  of crude drugs nay be adulterated with the bellow;

Capsicum Red sandals wood
Powdered bath Brick powder
Cinnamon Hazel nut shells
Ipecac Dextrin
Ginger powder Exhausted ginger


  1. Substitution with foregin & fictious materials:

Some times foreign matter is added to crude drugs;

Myrrh Quartz &mineral material
Resins Colophony
Black pepper Seeds of papaya
Cochineal Animal charcoal
Nuxvomica powder Olive stone powder


These are the different types of adulteration which leads to many complications;






  1. ADULTRATION causes denaturation&degradation of product;
  2. Adulteration may leads to deterioration of product;
  3. Adulterants may completely destroy the active constituents;
  4. May cause artificial scarcity of drug;
  5. That leads to damage of dosage form;
  6. Adulteration leads to altering of drug nature;
  7. The adulterants may cause damage to patient;
  8. Adulterants may cause death of patient;
  9. They may cause un wanted side effects in patients;
  10. They lead to increase price of product;
  11. They cause to increase formulation price of dosage form;
  12. Adulteration leads to damage of containers also.





Fig 1: The difference between local and global prices in Nigeria can reach up to 400% in key drugs like Coartem, an anti-malaria medication.


A study conducted by a former Deputy Director of World Health Organization (WHO), Professor Adeoye Lambo in Nigeria for a pharmaceutical firm in Lagos in 1990, showed that 54 per cent of drugs in every major pharmacy shop were fake. The study also indicated that the figure had risen to 80 per cent in the subsequent years.

There were reported incidents of fake drugs that led to the death of innocent Nigerians. In 1989, poorly compounded chloroquine syrup killed children in UNTH Enugu, Enugu State. Also in 1990, the paracetamol syrup disaster occurred when 109 children died in Ibadan and just after the intake which was produced with toxic ethylene gycol solvent instead of propylene gycol. And in 2004, three Nigeria hospitals reported cases of adverse reaction from the use of contaminated infusion produced by four Nigerian companies. Consequently, the sampled infusions and water for infection from all over the country showed that 147 of the 149 brands of water for injection screened were also not sterile. It is disheartening to see men and women hawking drugs along the major streets of our towns and cities in Nigeria. This unwholesome practice is very rampant among the illiterates and semi-literates selling drugs in bags and trays, making wrong prescriptions that may be injurious to the health of the innocent members of the public.


In Nigeria, a counterfeiter is allowed to pay a fine option of N100, 000. Health watchers say the appropriate penalty for counterfeiting could be an effective deterrent, sadly, the penalty for manufacturing or distributing counterfeit drugs is rather lenient. Counterfeiting  is punishable by imprisonment for between 3 months to 5 years or alternatively a fine of N100, 000 is imposed. Comparatively, in China, counterfeiting attracts the death penalty.

To avoid issues of fake drugs/substandard product patients are advised to purchase/obtain their medicines from accredited pharmacy and adhere to their dosage regimen in other to obtain excellent result.

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  1. Thank you Israel,
    This is an eye opener.

    That means we must take Seriously the “Scratch Card to check if Medicine is real”.

  2. Bravo, Weldon bro

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