How to tell the real McCoy

Counterfeit medicine is a growing problem with unforeseeable consequences. It is estimated that around 10% of the market for pharmaceutical products are fake, and this is a growing problem. Counterfeited products have been found within the NHS system in the UK and now a recent disclosure of fake Lipitor and Procrit makes the headlines in the US. This has to change. Today it is hard to tell what is a genuine product and what is not.

There are packaging related solutions to the problem though, both high and low tech. On the high-tech side RFID (radio frequency identification) item tagging can be used to provide transparency in the pharmaceutical logistics chain. This could be a success but needs quite a bit of logistics set up before it actually works. On the lower tech side there are lots of alternatives including invisible printing, unique number matrices, holograms, colour-shifting inks, codes, images and dyes used to create a multilayered barrier. Not all are helpful to the consumer to decipher without reading devices but would work in hospitals.

The Tylenol incident in 1982 was different but it led to new regulations for OTC drugs packaging. I think this will happen again, new regulations will be applied to the pharmaceutical industry to stop this worrying trend of more and more counterfeited products. This is also an opportunity for the packaging industry to be pro-active and come up with innovative solutions to this.