Health care workers are warning about a dangerous counterfeit medical treatment prescription drug that’s being used to treat a rare condition that’s caused a large number of hospitalizations in Saskatchewan.
“It’s a real concern, and we have to be vigilant,” said Dr. Karen Dyer, an assistant professor at the University of Saskatchewan Health Centre in Regina.
“There’s been a lot of cases of counterfeit medical products that are sold for Pukkus in hospitals, and that’s what’s causing a lot to be concerned.”
The generic medicine is used to help treat cellulitis, a common form of bacterial infection.
A person can get cellulitis through a leaky toilet, but it can also be caused by infections such as urinary tract infections.
“The problem is the amount of time people have to wait to get the treatment, and there’s no way to monitor their health,” said Dyer.
“So we have this massive supply, and unfortunately, there are a lot more people in Saskatchewan who are taking the medicine than they need.”
Dyer says there have been about 30 cases of the fake medication being used in Saskatchewan hospitals in the past six months.
The generic treatment pills are made of an inert polymer called polymer dacron and have no active ingredient.
They can’t be used to heal cellulitis or to treat other medical conditions.
“When people buy these generic pills, they’re not being given the active ingredient,” said Pauline Schilling, an epidemiologist with the Ministry of Health in Regina, who said there have also been cases of people not getting the medicine.
“So there’s really no way of knowing if the patient is getting the correct amount of the medicine or not.”
Schilling says doctors are advising people not to buy the pills online and to call their local pharmacy to confirm the pills are genuine.
“They have to check the package for authenticity and to be sure that they are in fact the right amount,” she said.
Schilling added the drug is often sold in a variety of forms, including pill bottles, capsules and pills with printed or embossed logos.
“You can also buy it in pharmacy stores, but we do have some restrictions,” she added.
“We’ve got the requirement that pharmacies must make sure that all of their prescriptions are valid and that there are no fake prescriptions.”
Schill says the drug can be difficult to track down.
“In many cases, the information on the label is not clear and we don’t have all the details,” she told CBC News.
“The problem here is that it’s difficult to trace.
So we’ve had a lot and the fact that people have been reporting on it, it’s been going on for a while now.”
Dyers said people can get help by getting tested for cellulitis.
“A lot of people will be taking Pukkus as a way to get their health back, and so there are some people who will be getting antibiotics for a lot longer than others, so they need to have a proper treatment,” she explained.
“But they’re also getting this Pukki pill that they’ve been taking for six months or a year and it’s just not making any difference.”
Health Canada says patients with cellulitis should see a health care professional to get an accurate diagnosis and to make sure their medications are in the right dosage.
“There are a number of factors that contribute to how long people can take for the correct dose of the medication to be effective,” said a spokesperson.
“One factor is the type of bacteria in their system, and the amount they’re getting.
So you might have a lot, you might get a few hundred or a couple hundred and then it’s gone.””
Another factor is that the person may be in a weakened state.
They may be suffering from other things that they can’t do,” said the spokesperson.
“Some people may be at risk of developing complications, including anemia and other conditions.
So if there are any concerns that you have about the correct dosage, it should be tested.”
Health officials say the generic medicine has not been found in any of the provinces where it’s being sold.
“Health Canada is working closely with Health Canada partners to identify any counterfeit or counterfeit medication,” said an email from the ministry.
“Any counterfeit medication that is sold or dispensed through Health Canada is subject to inspection and, if determined to be unsafe, could result in criminal penalties.”