A dentist pulling on PPE gloves that are not counterfeit.

Found Cheaper Gloves? They Could Be Counterfeit!

Counterfeit products are not new to the healthcare industry. The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the issue for both end-users and many legitimate suppliers. Since the virus first spread throughout the United States, access to Personal Protective Equipment, PPE, has been a significant issue. The high demand for PPE throughout the pandemic has forced many healthcare providers to look for medical equipment outside of their usual supply chains.

The Continuing Supply Shortage

As new variants of the virus begin to appear, the need for medical-grade PPE continues to grow. With many governments issuing PPE mandates and medical authorities urging the public to take precautions, the high demand won't end soon. Unfortunately, many unresolved issues that led to a shortage of medical-grade PPE in the U.S. remain.

One factor that contributed to the initial shortage of PPE products was the unpreparedness of the Strategic National Stockpile, or SNS. The George W. Bush Administration created the SNS to provide states and healthcare organizations that run low in an emergency, with medical equipment and supplies. While healthcare providers rely on the SNS for emergency supplies, the system was intended as a safety net in the event of a short-term threat. However, it cannot handle a pandemic.

The SNS was also unprepared because supplies had not been replenished or inventoried after the H1N1 pandemic in 2009. In addition, many of the remaining supplies had expired usage dates, and the inadequate backup supplies quickly depleted.

The Covid-19 pandemic also exposed several deficiencies in the supply chain. The existing supply chain has countries dependent on each other for the supply of medical equipment. Advanced industrial countries, such as the U.S. and Germany, specialize in manufacturing high-tech medical devices. In contrast, countries with low mass-production costs, such as China and Malaysia, produce less technologically advanced PPE products. Restrictions on imports, exports, and manufacturing across the globe revealed the risk of relying on outside sources.

Why the Black Market Is Flourishing

The shortages of PPE products and medical devices have been caused by several factors, resulting in increased opportunities for criminals. While the black market for medical supplies remains an issue, COVID-19 created new avenues for injecting counterfeit PPE into the global supply chain.

Like most consumer products, the cost is usually a significant factor in the purchasing decision. Nearly everyone has browsed the web and found name-brand dental supplies at typical market prices. However, another site offers what appears as the same product at a deeply discounted price. Sometimes these attractive prices are advertised as a special of the day or a limited supply. Other times, there may be a disclaimer such as an approaching expiration date. Regardless of how great the offer may seem, remain cautious when something looks too good to be true.

How the Black Market Works

The black market for medical supplies divides into two distinct segments. One often refers to the gray-black market, while the other is the counterfeit black market.

The Gray-Black Market

The gray market typically refers to products traded or sold outside a manufacturer's authorized distribution channels. Gray market products are genuine name brand products that the manufacturer intended to distribute in a specific market. Instead, they are diverted and resold by unauthorized distributors in another market.

For instance, a U.S. manufacturer may create a product for export and distribution in a foreign market. A medical supply company then decides to purchase those products, import them, and sell them at low prices. As a consumer, companies present you with products that look genuine but may pose health risks for your patients. Often, those products do not have FDA approval or compliance with U.S. Safety and Effectiveness Standards.

Black Market Counterfeit Products

The risks caused by the black market go beyond repackaging, relabeling, and packaging alterations. Black market industries manufacture counterfeit dental products using inferior materials that look identical to genuine products. As a result, counterfeit medical devices and PPE products can pose a serious health risk for patients. It also damages the reputation of dental practitioners using them and the manufacturers of genuine products.

Most countries have laws making the sale or distribution of black market products illegal. Black market dental supplies remain either inferior quality or stolen products from the normal supply chain for delivery to the end-user through an unknown supply chain, adding an inherent risk factor.

How Prevalent Is the Issue?

As the pandemic has dragged on, fraudsters and criminals have found new ways to take advantage of an already overly burdened global supply chain. Frequently, counterfeit materials remain undetected until after they have made it through U.S. Customs and Border Protection and are distributed to healthcare facilities and frontline workers.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection has found that the majority of counterfeit PPE products originate from China, Nigeria, Senegal, Turkey, South Korea, Saudi Arabia, Germany, and the United Kingdom. Customs has intercepted several black market shipments of PPE products from these countries, so dental practices and other healthcare providers should take precautions when purchasing medical supplies originating from any of them.

The Department of Homeland Security reported the seizure of over 10 million counterfeit masks in 2021's first two months alone. For instance, in February of 2021, U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers in Cincinnati seized a shipment of 16 pallets of counterfeit 3M surgical masks. The load consisted of 450 boxes, each containing 240 counterfeit masks, for a total of 108,000 items.

International Counterfeit Manufacturers

Originating from Hong Kong and destined for a logistics company in Canada, the masks read "Made in the USA" with a model number and lot number closely resembling authentic 3M packaging. However, the masks were ultimately determined to be counterfeit by the Customs bureaus Centers of Excellence and Expertise, after 3M confirmed that they did not manufacture N95 masks in Hong Kong and that the numbers associated with the products were fraudulent.

A recent investigation by CNN found that counterfeit and used nitrile medical gloves were imported into the U.S from Thailand during the pandemic. Investigators discovered trash bags filled with used medical gloves, some visibly soiled and bloodstained, in a Bangkok warehouse. After raiding the facility, authorities stated that migrant laborers used blue dye to make the gloves appear new.

This Bangkok warehouse remains just one of many facilities in the area involved in cleaning and repackaging used medical gloves. According to CNN, an analysis of import records and distributors who ordered the gloves revealed that "tens of millions of counterfeit and second-hand nitrile gloves have reached the United States."

The Real Cost of Deep Discounts

Sometimes, it may be possible to save money by buying discounted supplies. However, the real cost of purchasing those deeply discounted gloves includes the risk involved with black market products. Whether gray market or counterfeit, PPE and dental supplies present risks for your patients, employees, and your practice's reputation.

The unknown channels that move black market goods to the consumer make it impossible to ensure the integrity or authenticity of the product. Often, black market medical supplies travel between multiple countries with handling processes that subject them to harsh conditions. As a result, in regards to black-market PPE and dental materials, it is impossible to determine how those products perform.

It is a red flag when a dental office finds a product selling for considerably less than their established supply chain. Although discounted dental products are sometimes legitimate, the shortage of PPE products remains for some time to come. Heavily discounted supplies should trigger a warning that they could be a black market product.

Protecting Your Practice and Your Patients From Counterfeit Products

A dentist using legitimate medical protective wear from a reputable supplier as opposed to counterfeit, black market supplies

You can protect your practice and patients by being vigilant about the supplies you purchase. Check the product packaging for lot numbers, expiration dates, and any markings that may seem unusual. Genuine products have uniform markings and the same high-quality packaging on every product. If the packaging is anything less than perfect, you may be looking at a black market product.

The best method of protecting yourself is by investigating, asking questions, and developing a relationship with a reputable distributor. At Discount Disposables, we commit to earning your trust and delivering only the highest quality dental products available. We offer our clients a full range of infection control products, including Disposable Isolation Gowns, Nitrile Exam Gloves, Masks, and N95 Respirators.

We know that your patients count on you. Thus, we provide you with the products and supplies you need to deliver consistent performance, peace of mind, and ensure the health of your patients and staff. Contact us today to learn more about identifying black market products and how we can help protect your practice and patients.