Fake drugs are a persistent thorn in the side of the pharmaceutical industry — and a potentially deadly problem for patients relying on medicine that ultimately won’t help them get better.
Most fake drugs aren’t outright toxic, just ineffective. But, if you’re relying on an antibiotic to cure your infection, and it’s not doing anything, that infection can turn deadly.
The fakes are a massive problem in countries including Nigeria, India, and China.
Recently, Nigeria saw a particularly deadly case of fake teething medicine that killed 84 children. Instead of using a harmless, sweet solution in the formula, the fake medicine used a poisonous chemical that had the same sweet taste.
Counterfeit drugs usually don’t make their way to patients in the US and Europe because regulators are able to keep a very close eye on the flow of drugs, from the time they’re manufactured to the time they arrive at the pharmacy. But with online ordering, the chances of fake drugs showing up in the US are increasing.
To combat this problem, pharmaceutical companies pour money into their supply chains, or the process of making, packaging, and shipping their drugs to pharmacies around the world. This includes working with local governments and nonprofits to ensure phony drugs don’t get mixed up with the real stuff.
Even so, these efforts often fall short.
To address this growing issue, other companies have stepped in to help consumers authenticate the drugs themselves using mobile technology, including these start-ups:
- With mPedigree, you can send a text to verify that your medicine is safe. Ghana entrepreneur Bright Simons developed a texting service that’s helping countries with high counterfeit drug rates, like Tanzania, Kenya, Nigeria, and Ghana. The company puts a 12-digit code on every box of medicines. When you buy it, just scratch off to show the code and text it in to make sure it’s good to go. Bloomberg reports the company’s codes are on 500 million drug packet around Africa and India, and the company partners with pharmaceutical giants Roche, AstraZeneca, and Sanofi.
- PharmaSecure has put tracking devices on 1.5 billion packs of medicine in India. Similar to mPedigree, PharmaSecure uses mobile technology to make sure drugs are real. The company mainly works in India, and users text in the printed codes.
- CertiRx Corp. embeds trackers into the medicine itself. Using inactive ingredients, the company can place tags in both liquid and tablet medicine. The tags contain information about the medicine, including the batch it came from, MedCityNews reports.
- Kezzler has been in the business of tracking medicine for almost 15 years.The Oslo, Norway-based company uses its “kezzlercodes” that can be verified by text or by taking a picture on your phone.
- Sproxil is helping the Nigerian government push back against counterfeit drugs. The Nigerian-US company was founded in 2009 to help consumers figure out if the drugs they bought are safe. Using its mobile technology (a code that can be verified with a text), Sproxil has been able to verify millions of drug packets and get regulatory endorsements in Nigeria and Kenya.
Technology that puts authentification in the hands of the patient adds another secure step in the supply chain past the pharmacy, which is good news for pharmaceutical companies and the patients they are trying to help.
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