Fake Botox -- a security threat?

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So you may feel a little insecure when you look at Mom or Dad and they’re suddenly not able to smile anymore, or Aunt Millie is drooping at the eyelids from a botched botulinum-toxin job. But scholars at the Monterey Institute’s James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies see a security threat of a different type. Writing in the June issue of Scientific American, they argue that the proliferation of counterfeit Botox worldwide -- fueled by consumer demand -- has made the toxin, which is deadly in sufficient quantities, far more easily available for would-be bioterrorists than it was in the past.

‘The fake cosmetic products generally contain real toxin, albeit in widely varying amounts,’ a release from the Monterey Institute notes. One little vial would pose no threat, they say -- but what if some group with ill intent decided to buy in bulk or go into the botulinum-toxin production business for themselves?

The article, by institute faculty Ken Coleman and Raymond Zilinskas, is available at the Scientific American website -- for a fee, if you don’t already subscribe. You can read the top of the story for free.

‘Botulinum neurotoxin (BoNT) is grouped with the world’s most lethal potential biological weapons agents, sharing ‘Select Agent’ status with the pathogens that cause smallpox, anthrax and plague,’ the authors note. ‘This biowarfare potential puts the existence of illicit laboratories churning out the toxin and of shady distributors selling it worldwide through the Internet into a more disturbing light than most pharmaceutical fraud.’


Think of the safety of all of us the next time you try to buy some stuff for cheap online! Of course, that won’t solve the larger problem of counterfeit Botox being bought by doctors, either unknowingly or even, sometimes, with full knowledge. Here’s a 2006 article by Shari Roan on that topic, the nuts and bolts of which have probably not changed much.

-- Rosie Mestel