New Technologies Combat Counterfeit Drugs in Asia

Counterfeit drugs are a big problem in Asia. Somewhat lax enforcement of drug patents and the high cost of brand name drugs have generated huge demand for (and supply of) cheap imitation drugs. In some Asian countries, up to one-half of available drugs are counterfeit. As a result, pharmaceutical companies and governments have begun to use more ingenious techniques to combat the flood of counterfeit drugs.

Some pharmaceutical companies, including GlaxoSmithkline, Merck, and Knoll Pharmaceuticals, have implemented the use of holograms on their drugs in order to differentiate them from counterfeit versions, and to make it more difficult to copy their drugs. The Malaysian Ministry of Health has also employed holograms as a security measure, requiring that all registered drugs be tagged with the Meditag, a hologram security device. Each Meditag has a unique serial number and can be scanned with a special device to verify its authenticity.

However, since it is possible to copy holograms, they do not necessarily pose a significant obstacle to companies that are intent on producing counterfeit drugs. An alternative authentication technique is radio frequency identification, or RFID. An RFID tag, which contains a chip with an antenna, is affixed to the drug packaging. The exact location of the drug can then be tracked over radio waves. This technology is not cheap, but is said to be one of the most effective methods developed so far to address the problem of counterfeit drugs. Both Purdue Pharma and Pfizer have already begun using RFID technology to track their respective drugs, OxyContin and Viagra.