Investigators are scrambling today to figure out how many tubes of counterfeit Colgate toothpaste, tainted with a toxic chemical, were bought in discount stores.
The toothpaste scare is a reminder that counterfeit products are often sold in the United States without consumers' knowledge.
Rosemarie Rodriguez believes her family may have used the counterfeit Colgate toothpaste. Rodriguez says her twin daughters got sick after brushing their teeth.
"My head hurt," Franchesca Rodriguez said. "It was hurting a lot, because I didn't feel well, and my eyes [hurt], too."
The Food and Drug Administration uncovered the tainted toothpaste during a dragnet operation. Testing showed it contained diethylene glycol, a sweet-tasting poison used in antifreeze.
Shadowy manufacturers have been known to use it in place of the sweetener glycerin because it's much cheaper. Unfortunately, the toothpaste was already in stores.
"Most consumers think that products are tested by somebody to make sure that the product that they are buying off the shelf is safe, but that's not the case at all," said Rachel Weintraub, director of product safety and senior counsel with the Consumer Federation of America.
Counterfeit Drugs Particularly Dangerous
It's not just toothpaste. In Cook County, Ill., the sheriff's department confiscated 600 bottles of counterfeit Head and Shoulders shampoo containing a harmful bacteria linked to feces.
Drug manufacturers lose $32 billion a year to counterfeit medications, and patients can be left sick or injured.
Kevin Fagan's son, Tim, was prescribed a critical medication after a liver transplant. Every time he took the medicine, Tim cried out in pain. Eventually, the Fagans found out the drug was fraudulent.
"What happened to my son was unconscionable," Kevin Fagan said. "His arms, his legs, his entire body was just racked in pain and my wife and I were absolutely frantic with worry."
Safety advocates say the FDA doesn't conduct enough inspections of foreign plants where medications are made.
Now new countries like China, which is known for counterfeiting, are getting into the drug business. Statistics show China was the source of 81 percent of the phony goods seized at U.S. ports last year.
"The CPSC [Consumer Product Safety Commission] looks for hazardous products across the board, and as of right now, 60 percent of the products recalled in the last fiscal year have been from China," Julie Vallese, a senior spokeswoman for the Consumer Product Safety Commission, said.
How You Can Tell If a Product Is Counterfeit
Counterfeit products, like toothpaste, often have misspellings on the packaging.
Fakes are still most often sold at flea markets and discount stores, although some have made it into mainstream retailers.
Avoid products labeled for sale in other countries. Foreign toothpaste, for example, may contain too much fluoride and may harm rather than help your teeth.