COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - When your budget is tight and the internet is so available or you just want anonymity, it's quite convenient to order your drugs online. But buyer beware.
"That product is most likely coming from some deplorable, unsanitary, horrible factory somewhere in the Asia-Pacific region, or perhaps someplace else in the world," said Matt Bassiur, vice president of global security for Pfizer.
Bassiur fights a different kind of war on drugs: counterfeit pharmaceuticals -- a multi-billion dollar industry.
"It's very difficult to tell when you're buying your pharmaceuticals online where the actual pharmaceutical is coming from," said Bassiur. "In fact, there are many people in the United States who feel that they are buying from a Canadian pharmacy."
I went online to see just how many sites offer well-known, frequently used drugs. The sources seem endless. There are savings, bargains and promises of a happier, healthier life and the chance to buy without a prescription.
The National Association of Boards of Pharmacy looked at 10,000 websites offering pharmaceuticals and found 97 percent do not meet the patient safety specifications required.
Not only do the counterfeit drugs often have no active pharmaceutical ingredients or no therapeutic value, but they can be filled with danger.
"Like rat poison, wallboard material, road paint, some of the most horrible things, heavy metals, for example, coming into your body," said Bassiur.
Federal agents recently raided a warehouse on Shop Road in Richland County. It's the former Morris Furniture -- the name has never been updated to South Carolina Liquidations.
The feds conducted the raid after a tip of counterfeit Coach, Prada, Ray-Ban, Mont Blanc and Golf Pride products being housed inside. They also found drugs -- box after box after box. $3.5 million worth. All of it fake.
The South Carolina Secretary of State's office says the drugs were shipped from India and included tablets claiming to be erectile dysfunction medications, Viagra and Cialis, and the prostate treatment drug, Proscar.
"If you're going to ingest this, you are putting your life at risk," said Bassiur. "You are putting your loved ones at risk, and it is extremely dangerous."
I obtained these photographs from investigators. One photo features a product being made in Pakistan passed off as Corex cough syrup.
"It's all about the money for the counterfeiter," said Bassiur. "They don't care about your health. They don't care about your safety. They don't care about your loved ones getting better. They care about the money."
The undercover world makes its way right to your medicine cabinet if you buy from a counterfeit online site. And I was shown, it's extremely hard to detect the fakes from the legits.
"Sometimes they get the fonts wrong, or the print size wrong, or the color wrong, but they are becoming dangerously close to becoming identical, in terms of looks," said Bassiur. "Obviously, not in terms of the therapeutic value."
Would you know the difference?