According to a report from the World Health Organization, fraudulent medicine is a $30 billion global industry, and up to 10 percent of all drugs in developing countries could be counterfeit. Luckily, new medical technology is being developed to increase transparency and thwart the spread of fake medicine.
Dangers of Counterfeit Medicine
There are many methods for creating fraudulent medicine. For example, counterfeit medicine could contain the wrong active ingredient, harmful chemicals or an incorrect amount of the correct active ingredient. According to National Public Radio, counterfeiters have sold “antimalarial pills” that were made of just potato and cornstarch.
The WHO report states counterfeit drugs can cause sickness and even lead to death. An individual taking fraudulent medicine may not realize the potentially life-saving medicine is not treating their illness or pain, resulting in needless suffering.
Tracking Counterfeit Medicine
Fraudulent medicine is incredibly difficult to track down, and the internet makes selling it to unsuspecting consumers easier than ever. Malaria medicines, anesthetics, painkillers and antibiotics were among the most-reported fraudulent products to the WHO between 2013 and 2017. Approximately 1,500 fraudulent products were reported as part of this investigation, according to the WHO.
The WHO has created a database that lets individuals report potentially falsified medicine or questionable cases to track them on a global scale. This database helped save lives in South America after experts discovered patients were using a contaminated product that had caused deaths in Asia.
The availability of cheap manufacturing technology, and the internet as a global marketplace, make it nearly impossible to prevent the sale of these pills, reports the WHO. Globalization has made it easier to transport goods around the world, but that creates a massive supply chain criminals can exploit. Medicine can be manufactured in one country and shipped to another thousands of miles away. However, these same technological advances are providing new tools to combat the global spread of fraudulent medicine.
Individuals and local authorities alone can’t stop the spread of fake drugs because the problem is global. But technology transcends borders, and databases like the one the WHO created can help authorities access information quickly to assess a situation.
QR codes are another tool in the fight against fake drugs. With the prevalence of smartphones, all it would take for an individual to determine if their medicine is real would be a scan of the QR code on the box. A Ghanaian company developed a scratch-off code and mobile app that can confirm if a drug is real in under 20 seconds, according to Deutsche Welle. The code automates a response that tells customers whether their drugs are real or counterfeit.
Mass serialization is another way manufacturers try to prevent the spread of counterfeit drugs, reports Infosys. Each package contains a unique barcode or radio-frequency identification tag that is scanned and entered into an online database. Later, handheld scanners can quickly match a serial code with authenticated entries. Blockchain technology can be used to bolster security because every action must be verified, thus ensuring the authenticity of each scanned item, according to Forbes.
Technology has helped enable the global counterfeit drug industry; now it will help prevent its expansion. New medical technology and data-driven solutions must be developed to better address the global threat of counterfeit medicine.
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