A whopping 28 percent of morning-after pills in Peru are fake. A study published today in PLOS ONE relates how some emergency contraceptives contain inadequate amounts of active ingredients that, in many cases, aren't being released quickly enough into the body to be considered effective. This, the researchers say, means that nearly one third of the pills — pills that are sold by licensed pharmacists — offer no protection against unwanted pregnancy.

One batch of pills was laced with an antibiotic instead

In the study, researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology tested 25 batches of emergency contraceptives purchased from 15 pharmacies and distributors in Lima, Peru. Of those 25 batches, seven didn't dissolve quickly enough. Yet that performance was still slightly better than that of a batch that didn't contain contraceptive ingredients at all. Instead, the researchers say, the pills were laced with an antibiotic that could have caused some women to experience dangerous allergic reactions. The scientists therefore conclude that the pills would have been useless to anyone who purchased them.

the pills would have been useless to anyone who purchased them

Peru isn't the only country that has had to deal with fake contraceptives. Of the nine countries that manufactured the pills tested in this study, at least three have experienced some form of contraceptive fakery within the last four years. Police in China, for instance, seized 4.6 million condoms falsely labeled with brand names such as "Durex" last May. These condoms, officials said, had been manufactured in unsanitary conditions and were "low-quality." The US has also had its share of scares. As recently as 2011, the FDA issued a warning against using a morning-after pill labeled "Evital" because the pill was counterfeit — and entirely ineffective.

The study published today was funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which has donated money to groups working on contraceptives before. One of its most recent projects is aimed at building a "next-generation condom" that will enhance sensation and reliability, and therefore encourage its use. But while the world waits for a better condom, the researchers in this study are focusing their attention on improving contraceptive drug testing techniques. They plan to make portable tools that will help inspectors analyze the contents of these drugs in the field. This, they hope, will halt the distribution of fake emergency contraceptives before they can make their way into the hands of already anxious consumers.