Fake drugs protection technologies
Mar 12 2012, 16:29 | By Moneycontrol.com
Holograms, barcode labels and Unique Identification Code (UID) have become crucial solutions to fight counterfeiting.
Image: SME Mentor
As India’s economy achieves new horizons of excellence, counterfeit products pose a huge threat to individual market players and consumers alike. This is especially true for food products, cosmetics, pharmaceuticals, etc., which can potentially damage the health and well-being of consumers. The Washington Times estimates the global fake drug industry to be worth $90 billion, causing the deaths of almost one million people a year and contributing to a rise in drug resistance.
This is a serious concern for India, which is the world’s largest manufacturer of generic drugs and has become the epicentre of counterfeit and substandard medicines. The Indian Government estimated that 0.4 percent of the country’s drugs are counterfeit and that substandard drugs account for about 8 percent of total production. But independent estimates are in the range of 12-25 percent. With rising number of counterfeit cases being registered in the country, companies today are looking at packaging as one way to evade this menace. In short, packaging provides the first line of defence to combat counterfeiting.
Anti-counterfeit packaging technology has undergone significant developments, progressing from storage and safety functions to incorporate information, style and branding protection. With the help of holograms, barcode labels and Unique Identification Code (UID) in pharmaceutical products, packaging has become a crucial solution to fight counterfeiting. Today, many pharmaceutical packaging and marking systems use integrated thermal printers to produce medication and barcode labels. Government initiatives such as serialising every pack of medicine and recommending Two-Dimensional (2D) barcoding will go a long way in putting a stop to supply of spurious products.
Didier Lacroix, senior vice president of Worldwide Sales and Marketing, Cognex, says, “In India, barcoding standards have evolved from the basic 1D matrix to the more sophisticated 2D matrix codes, which can store large amount of information. Although many companies in various industrial sectors are looking at new barcoding technologies, the huge surge has come from Indian pharmaceutical companies.”
Current market scenario
In China, the State Food and Drug Administration (SFDA) recently released a draft plan to provide drug monitoring through a system of labelling codes. The draft plan required pharmaceutical manufacturers to include a 14-digit code on their drug packaging. The code would consist of numbers indicating product type, manufacturer, specification and country of origin. The code would also be readable both by machine and humans, thereby facilitating structural controls and providing an additional layer of protection for physicians and consumers.
Andrew Tay, president of Zebra Technologies Asia-Pacific, says, “Beyond mere drug labelling, barcode control systems for medication dispensing and administration provide significant safety benefits. Another option is Radio Frequency Identification (RFID), a technology that enables various entities in the supply chain to verify the validity and authenticity of a drug package. RFID technology has been used to help drug makers to fight counterfeiters as well as increase production and distribution efficiency.”
Besides the pharmaceutical sector, alarming numbers of counterfeit products are witnessed in the food and beverage industry. Thus, companies have started adopting various innovative strategies to counter this problem. Lacroix says, “Tamper-proof packaging is one way to solve this problem across various sectors, as all products need to be packaged. However, moving forward, we need to look at more advanced solutions, such as track & trace, where products are tracked right from the time of manufacturing till it reaches local retailers.”
Apart from RFID, other anti-counterfeiting technologies include security inks, invisible digital graphics, surface finger-printing and infra-red invisible codes. Tay says, “These solutions may appear to add initial manufacturing costs, but our customers have observed a rise in sales and brand awareness among consumers within a few months of implementation. Manufacturers with a long-term view understand that such technologies are a sound business investment, which enables them to grow their business.”
In metro cities, affluent consumers expect to have globalised products available in their hometown. As the demand for packaging of essential commodities is rising, growth of the local packaging industry is becoming an imperative and not an alternative. Tay says, “Companies are pushed to constantly modernise, maintain and transform their product packaging to compete with international brands. Concepts like UID, a software-generated alphanumeric random code, which is assigned to each unit of product are gaining ground. The industry is also witnessing innovative materials being used for packaging, eg, the use of glass as packaging material to reduce chances of counterfeiting.”
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