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Keeping Bogus Drugs Out of the Medicine Cabinet
A number of factors are conspiring to significantly increase the potential for counterfeit drugs to wind up in our homes.
Aug 06, 2007—Recently, Colgate-Palmolive was thrust into a crisis it didn't create, forcing the manufacturer to scramble to have toothpaste bearing its iconic Colgate brand pulled from store shelves in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and other states. The problem? Counterfeit tubes of toothpaste—labeled with the Colgate packaging, and containing diethylene glycol, a sweet-tasting chemical commonly found in antifreeze—had entered the U.S. supply chain via China. Fortunately, those affected by the counterfeit product have, to date, faced only relatively minor medical issues.
To its credit, the company, in cooperation with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), has worked diligently to educate consumers regarding the potential dangers of the counterfeit product and how to identify it, while also working proactively to make sure the tainted product was pulled from store shelves.
Last year, nearly 4 billion prescriptions were filled in the United States. Understandably, customers expect the medications they purchase to be authentic, especially those coming from reputable pharmacies. However, greater sophistication by counterfeiters, both inside and outside the country, as well as the importation of drugs through Internet pharmacies and the opportunity for stolen and fraudulently obtained pharmaceuticals to enter the supply chain, all significantly increase the potential for counterfeit drugs to wind up in our medicine cabinets. Ultimately, consumers are left with little choice but to trust the programs and systems currently in place to protect them from the potential dangers or counterfeit products. But how effective are these protections?
The U.S. Congress, the FDA, and numerous pharmaceutical distributors and manufactures have attempted to collectively address this issue, with little progress. Twenty years ago, following an alarming increase in counterfeit drug cases in the United States, Congress passed the Prescription Drug Marketing Act, requiring drug distributors to document their products' chain of custody, which Congress called a "pedigree" system. Since then, the FDA has issued a number of regulations in an attempt to comply with the law, and has even made public statements of its support of an electronic pedigree (e-pedigree) system based on radio frequency identification—though it has stopped short of mandating such a solution.
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