Traffickers have taken advantage of the rise of new technologies, especially the Internet, to develop their deadly trade. However, such technology can also be used against them.
Technology offers an extremely beneficial advantage in the development of tools to detect falsified medicine. It is also an important element in the strategy to prevent the distribution of falsified medicines.
Such advances help in three main areas:
- Maintaining a product’s integrity after manufacture:
Maintaining integrity must be ensured for the widest range of low cost products.
“Protecting the container is protecting the contents”
This requires “anti-breach” systems to be established. Inviolable labels and glue systems for bottles (which leave a visible mark after opening, thus guaranteeing the inviolability of the products) are two of the most common systems.
- Authentifying the product:
For better authentification, each product has a “fingerprint” made up of visible and invisible elements.
The visible elements allow a product’s authenticity to be verified by every member of the distribution chain (wholesale distributors, wholesalers, pharmacists, hospitals…). Holograms are an example, as are inks that change colors. These systems, visible to the naked eye, are unfortunately known and copied by traffickers.
They are therefore combined with invisible elements. Each manufacture has its own system that allows them to examine a product without necessarily resorting to long and costly laboratory analyses.
It is vital that each manufacture choose their own, personal system in order to limit the risk of falsification and adaptation by traffickers.
- Product identification:
The goal is mass serialization; in other words, attributing to each box of medicine a unique identifier composed of a product code and serial number. This system is currently being implemented in different ways across the globe. Controlling each box throughout the distribution chain as well as during the sales or distribution of the product would allow copies to be detected and offer better protection from falsified medicines.
A global serialization system shared by all of Europe is currently under way and will be applied in 2018, according to the schedule established by the European Directive on Falsified Medicines.
Though traceability and technology are not the definitive solution to the scourge of falsified medicines, they are effective weapons, which help render the chain of medications safer and thus protect patient health.