Home Internet of Things Aerospace Apparel Energy Defense Health Care Logistics Manufacturing Retail

Access This Premium Content

Options To Access This Article:

What Subscribers Are Saying

  • "Probably the best investment I've ever made."
    Steve Meizlish, President & CEO, MeizCorp Services, Inc.
  • "I have found that RFID Journal provides an objective viewpoint of RFID. It you are looking for a resource that provides insights as to the application and implications of deploying RFID, RFID Journal will meet your needs, It gives you a broad perspective of RFID, beyond the retail supply chain."
    Mike O'Shea, Director of Corporate AutoID/RFID Strategies & Technologies, Kimberly-Clark Corp.
  • "No other source provides the consistent value-added insight that Mark Robert and his staff do. In a world dominated by press release after press release, RFID Journal is developing as the one place to go to make the most sense out of the present and future of RFID in commerce."
    Bob Hurley, Project Leader for RFID, Bayer HealthCare's Consumer Care Division
  • "RFID Journal is the one go-to source for information on the latest in RFID technology."
    Bruce Keim, Director, Hewlett-Packard
  • "RFID Journal is the only source I need to keep up to the minute with the happenings in the RFID world."
    Blair Hawley, VP of Supply Chain, Remington Products Company

A Prescription for Pharmaceuticals

RFID could help reduce counterfeiting and improve patient safety, but the costs are high and there are technological and privacy hurdles to overcome.
By Elizabeth Wasserman
Jun 01, 2005—A customer became suspicious after buying a few bottles of Viagra, the leading treatment for erectile dysfunction, from a Glendale, Calif., pharmacy in June 2004. The labels on the bottles looked slightly off-color, and the logo was odd. After breaking open a tablet, the customer found unusual blue speckles inside; real Viagra tablets have a light blue coating on the outside and are solid white in the center. Tests by Viagra's manufacturer, Pfizer, headquartered in New York City, confirmed that the tablets were fake.

For Pfizer, the stakes were tremendous. Viagra has a 70 percent worldwide market share in its class of prescription drugs, which amounted to $1.68 billion in sales in 2004. So far this year, authorities around the world have confiscated several million counterfeit tablets. The growing illegal trade in knockoff Viagra by unregulated Internet pharmacies, organized crime and overseas bootleggers—which often beckon consumers through unsolicited e-mail—poses potential risks to customer health.

And that was a risk Pfizer couldn't measure in dollars and cents. The company announced in November that it would start adding RFID tags to cases and packaging of Viagra as part of a multipronged, multimillion-dollar anticounterfeiting campaign. It also filed suit against online dealers it claims are peddling fake Viagra.

Pfizer is one of a growing number of pharmaceutical companies in the United States and Europe (see "Europeans Try to Track and Trace Pharmaceuticals" on page 5 of this article) that are turning to RFID technology to crack down on the worldwide trade in fake medicines. The World Health Organization estimates that the sale of counterfeit prescription drugs is potentially a $26 billion-a-year illegal business.

The pharmaceutical industry is one of the most advanced in terms of studying the application of RFID in its supply chain—and the first to focus on tagging at the item level. One of the reasons is that it has been under state mandates and the threat of federal rules to secure the supply chain from counterfeit products. Those mandates don't apply just to manufacturers but to the entire pharmaceutical pipeline, which comprises drugmakers, distributors and wholesalers, and the drugstores and hospital pharmacies that actually fill prescriptions.

The $216 billion-a-year pharmaceutical pipeline in the United States has long been the world's most secure market for medicines. But a series of high-profile incidents in 2002 and 2003 involving counterfeit drugs sold in the United States convinced the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA)to take action. An FDA task force issued a report, "Combating Counterfeit Drugs," in February 2004, in which it stated that RFID "appears to be the most promising approach to reliable product tracking and tracing." The report stopped short of proposing regulations, but it spurred a number of feasibility studies and pilot projects by indicating that authentication and tracking technologies realistically could be in place through the U.S. pharmaceutical supply chain by 2007. Last November, the FDA published an online "Compliance Policy Guide" that lifted a range of labeling and manufacturing practice regulations that had been hampering RFID trials.

The FDA endorsement emboldened several states—California, Florida, Nevada and Virginia, among them—to adopt laws requiring some form of a pedigree for every pharmaceutical product sold in the state. That pedigree would record the chain of custody of drugs, from production to dispensing. Proponents believe that these records will improve patient safety by allowing wholesalers and retailers to quickly identify, remove and report suspected phony drugs and better target recalls. But distributors are concerned that 50 different states might develop 50 different rules that would end up being a compliance nightmare for the industry, and they are lobbying state and federal lawmakers to discourage such state-by-state rules.

Manufacturers, distributors and retailers see RFID as a way to create an electronic pedigree, by placing tags with an Electronic Product Code, or unique serial number, on every bottle and vial of prescription medication. The tags could be read and the validity of the drugs authenticated at every step in the pharmaceutical supply chain.

The pharmaceutical industry is also getting pushed into RFID by mandates from Wal-Mart, which has a pharmacy division, and the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD). The retailer and DOD have ordered their largest pharmaceutical suppliers to start tagging products as a cost of doing business.
To continue reading this article, please log in or choose a purchase option.

Option 1: Become a Premium Member.

One-year subscription, unlimited access to Premium Content: $189

Gain access to all of our premium content and receive 10% off RFID Reports and RFID Events!

Option 2: Purchase access to this specific article.

This article contains 3,525 words and 5 pages. Purchase Price: $19.99

Upgrade now, and you'll get immediate access to:

  • Case Studies

    Our in-dept case-study articles show you, step by step, how early adopters assessed the business case for an application, piloted it and rolled out the technology.

    Free Sample: How Cognizant Cut Costs by Deploying RFID to Track IT Assets

  • Best Practices

    The best way to avoid pitfalls is to know what best practices early adopters have already established. Our best practices have helped hundreds of companies do just that.

  • How-To Articles

    Don’t waste time trying to figure out how to RFID-enable a forklift, or deciding whether to use fixed or mobile readers. Our how-to articles provide practical advice and reliable answers to many implementation questions.

  • Features

    These informative articles focus on adoption issues, standards and other important trends in the RFID industry.

    Free Sample: Europe Is Rolling Out RFID

  • Magazine Articles

    All RFID Journal Premium Subscribers receive our bimonthly RFID Journal print magazine at no extra cost, and also have access to the complete online archive of magazine articles from past years.

Become a member today!

RFID Journal LIVE! RFID in Health Care LIVE! LatAm LIVE! Brasil LIVE! Europe RFID Connect Virtual Events RFID Journal Awards Webinars Presentations