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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.
Meanwhile, the threat continues to grow. In 2005, the FDA thwarted a drug counterfeiting and smuggling ring that was trafficking almost $50 million worth of Lipitor into and out of the United States.
Most recently, through the context of the larger debates over drug importation and Internet drug sales from such countries as Canada and Mexico, Congress has once again stepped in by introducing several bills requiring the implementation of an e-pedigree system. And throughout the political and technological debates among government and industry representatives, what has emerged as a viable, cost-effective solution to securing the pharmaceutical distribution chain is the use of RFID technology in an e-pedigree tracking system.
Utilizing RFID by tagging bottles and authenticating shipments throughout the distribution chain would bring a level of security, efficiency and economic feasibility unmatched by any other technology currently being tested. RFID has already proven effective in distribution and inventory-management systems by large consumer-goods chains, and many pharmaceutical companies have initiated successful pilot programs testing the technology.
More importantly, RFID provides companies the ability to authenticate products throughout the distribution cycle, from the manufacturing facility all the way to the storefront. As a result, opportunities for counterfeiters to bring fake drugs into the supply chain would be nearly eliminated, and pharmacists and hospitals would be more certain of the safety and security of the drugs they dispensed. In addition, manufacturers, wholesalers, retailers and patients could achieve significant savings.
Ultimately, securing our pharmaceutical distribution chain will not be achieved unless Congress, the FDA and the pharmaceutical industry work together to agree on an appropriate solution and timetable for implementing a secure e-pedigree system. With some political foresight and follow-through, policymakers and industry leaders could largely prevent a Colgate incident from ever happening to your prescription drugs.
Jan-Willem Reynaerts, a general manager for NXP Semiconductors, is based in Europe.
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