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4 Ways to Identify and Avoid Counterfeit Medicines

Counterfeit medicines are fake drugs made with the wrong dose or no dose of active ingredients, or with toxins or harmful additives. These products are deliberately produced or mislabeled to make them appear like genuine medicines. Recent reports suggest that the global incidence of counterfeit medicines is rising each year, and developing nations are the most affected, with the prevalence of counterfeit and substandard drugs being between 19-50% in parts of Africa. Furthermore, high-demand and expensive drugs such as oncology medicines, vaccines, and antibiotics are among the most counterfeited medicines, as counterfeiters can derive maximum profits with cheap replicas of these drugs. These counterfeit drugs pose serious risks to patient health, undermine trust in the healthcare and pharmaceutical industry, and can even lead to fatal consequences.

Counterfeit medications can be found in both branded and generic forms. They can affect a wide range of medications, including prescription drugs, over-the-counter medicines, and even vitamins and supplements. However, the risk of counterfeit drugs becomes high when medicines are imported on emergency grounds. Hence, importers must know ways to identify counterfeit medicines and should identify reliable pharmaceutical suppliers to source from. As healthcare entities often source medicines from different pharmaceutical suppliers, it is crucial to have stringent checks in place for spotting counterfeit medicines and ensuring the safety and efficacy of the products being procured. In this blog post, we will highlight four effective ways to identify counterfeit medicines, empowering healthcare professionals and their procurement teams to make informed decisions and protect patient well-being.

1. Irregularities in Packaging or Design Elements

The initial signs of counterfeit medicines can often be found in the packaging or design elements. Authentic pharmaceutical companies invest significant effort in designing and producing high-quality packaging that adheres to strict regulations. Counterfeiters, on the other hand, often cut corners, leading to telltale irregularities.

Pay close attention to the following:

  • Print Quality: Authentic packaging will feature clear, sharp, and high-resolution printing. Counterfeit medicines might exhibit blurred or smudged printing, inconsistent fonts, or faded logos.
  • Holograms and Security Features: Many pharmaceutical products include holograms or other security features to prevent tampering and counterfeiting. Counterfeiters may struggle to replicate these features accurately, resulting in holograms that appear dull or discoloured.
  • Spelling and Grammar Errors: Counterfeit packaging often contains spelling and grammatical errors that would be unlikely in products from reputable manufacturers. These errors could be subtle, but they are unmistakable signs of counterfeit medicines.
  • Packaging Details: Compare the packaging with authentic examples of the product. Look for differences in shades, logo placement, and overall design layout. Compare the product information and instructions with reliable sources, such as the manufacturer’s website or official medical resources. Any significant deviations should raise suspicion. Additionally, check for any signs of tampering on the outer carton that may indicate the replacement of original medicines with counterfeit medicines inside the packaging.
  • Barcode and Serial Numbers: Verify the barcode and serial numbers on the packaging. Counterfeit medications may have missed or altered codes, or the codes may not match the manufacturer’s database. Those who produce counterfeit drugs may keep repeating the same serial number for a long time.

2. Variations in The Colour or Appearance of Medicines

Counterfeit medicines frequently exhibit variations in colour, texture, and overall appearance when compared to genuine products. These differences are often indicative of substandard manufacturing processes or the use of inferior ingredients.

Here’s what to watch for:

  • Colour Consistency: Legitimate pharmaceutical manufacturers adhere to strict quality control measures to ensure consistent colour throughout a batch of medicines. If you notice discrepancies in colours between different units of the same product, it is a potential indicator of counterfeit drugs.
  • Texture and Coating: Counterfeit medicines may have uneven coatings, rough surfaces, or inconsistent textures. Authentic drugs usually have a smooth and uniform appearance.
  • Imprints and Engravings: Check for imprints and engravings on tablets or capsules. Counterfeiters may struggle to replicate these accurately, leading to faded or poorly defined markings.

3. Anomalies in Dissolution Tests and Assays

Dissolution tests and assays are essential components of quality control in pharmaceutical manufacturing. These tests assess the rate at which the active ingredients of a medicine dissolve, ensuring that patients receive the intended therapeutic effects. Counterfeit medicines often fail to meet these quality standards.

Consider the following:

  • Inconsistent Dissolution Profiles: If a batch of medicines consistently shows variations in dissolution rates, it could be a sign of counterfeit drugs. Authentic products should demonstrate reliable and reproducible dissolution profiles.
  • Rapid Dissolution: Counterfeit medicines might dissolve more quickly than genuine ones, leading to suboptimal therapeutic effects or potential harm to patients.
  • Lack of Active Ingredients: Counterfeit drugs might contain inadequate or no active ingredients at all. This can lead to ineffective treatment, exacerbation of health issues, and potential complications.

4. Unavailability of Quality Reports or Traceability Documents

Legitimate pharmaceutical manufacturers provide detailed quality reports and traceability documents for their products. These documents outline the manufacturing processes, quality control procedures, and testing results that ensure the safety and efficacy of medicines. Counterfeit medicines are often devoid of such documentation.

Keep the following in mind:

  • Transparency: Reputable pharmaceutical suppliers are transparent about their manufacturing practices and readily provide quality reports. If a supplier hesitates to provide this information, it is usually a red flag.
  • Traceability: Authentic medicines can be traced back to their source through detailed documentation. If a supplier cannot provide traceability information, there’s a higher likelihood of counterfeit products being involved.

Tips To Avoid Counterfeit Medicines

Choose Reputed Suppliers

Purchase medications only from reputable and well-known pharmaceutical suppliers who have been in business for a long time and are GDP-compliant. Research the retailer’s reputation and certifications and check for customer complaints or negative reviews. Contact them to obtain all the required quality data and any other information you may need to establish confidence in the supplier.

Don’t Fall For Unusually Low Prices

Avoid opting for unusually low price offers. While looking for a good price is ethical and sensible, there is an optimal low price for every drug, and any pharmaceutical supplier offering you unusually low prices is likely to be dealing in subpar or counterfeit medicines.

Report suspicions

If you suspect you have encountered counterfeit medications, report the issue to the appropriate authorities, such as your local regulatory agency or the manufacturer of the genuine medication. Providing detailed information can aid in identifying and preventing the distribution of counterfeit drugs.

Although one is not likely to contact the manufacturer directly when working with specific suppliers, you may write to the manufacturers if you have any doubts about the product quality. Manufacturers can readily confirm if they have produced or supplied that particular drug.

Build Long-Term Relationships With Trustworthy Suppliers

Switching suppliers too frequently for marginal price benefits is one of the most common reasons why importers fall prey to counterfeit drugs. Healthcare organizations and procurement officers who build long-term relations with their suppliers are much less likely to be deceived.

Business relationships are built over time and help ensure consistent quality. If the supplier is well known to the importer and has years of experience in the business, chances are slim that they will ship low-quality products. In fact, reputed suppliers will take all necessary measures to provide the highest quality of medicines to their long-term customers.

Bottom Line

Identifying and flagging counterfeit medicines is of utmost importance to healthcare entities sourcing medications from different pharmaceutical suppliers. The risk of receiving counterfeit medicines increases with emergency pharmaceutical supplies, and hence they demand the highest vigilance by the procurement team and healthcare provider. By carefully examining the above attributes, healthcare professionals can take proactive steps to safeguard patient health and ensure the effectiveness of treatments.

Staying vigilant and testing samples from each batch of medicines received can protect your patients against the harmful effects of counterfeit drugs. However, to further ensure the highest quality of medicines, healthcare organizations must partner exclusively with accredited pharmaceutical suppliers that are GDP compliant. By collaborating with suppliers that abide by the international standards of quality control for medicines, healthcare providers can procure high-quality pharmaceuticals through a robust supply chain that maintains the integrity of the products.

At Eudaico, we source high-quality medicines from USFDA/EMEA/PIC/s or WHO-cGMP accredited manufacturing facilities and supply them to healthcare entities across the globe through our reliable distribution chain. We follow a stringent quality checklist to safeguard patients against counterfeit and substandard medicines. Therefore, by partnering with us, you can provide the best quality pharmaceuticals to patient communities around the world to improve treatment outcomes.

Kindly contact us for more information on our products and services.

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