Saving money to purchase medicine in the hope of curing a life-threatening condition, only to discover that the drug purchased was a counterfeit, is too painful. For several years, the number of counterfeit pharmaceuticals that have successfully made their way into reputable pharmacies, then to end-consumers has been steadily increasing. In fact, the World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that counterfeit medications account for 1 to 10% of worldwide pharmaceutical trade, and its market value reached up to $200 billion annually.
Counterfeit medications have been purposefully and fraudulently manufactured and/or mislabeled regarding the identity and/or source to make it appear as genuine. Drugs with no active pharmaceutical ingredient (API), an erroneous amount of API, an inferior-quality API, the wrong API, contaminants, or repackaged expired pharmaceuticals are examples of counterfeit medications. Some counterfeit pharmaceuticals may even be misdesigned and manufactured in an inadequate condition.
Generic Drugs are Not Counterfeit Drugs
Both branded and generic medications are susceptible to counterfeiting. Frequently, generic drugs are confused with counterfeit medicines. However, generic drugs are not counterfeited. In fact, the active ingredients in generic drugs are chemically identical to those present in branded drugs, only that it is sold at a lower cost. This is because the manufacturer does not have to repeat the original clinical trials for efficacy and safety, lowering the expense of bringing the medicine to the market. Moreover, generic drugs may also be lower in quality, but they are not counterfeited.
Counterfeiting Drugs is a Global Problem
Counterfeit pharmaceutical is a rising problem that affects not only patients but also pharmacists and pharmaceutical corporations. Expert says that the scale of the drug-counterfeiting problem is impossible to estimate. This is because the crimes of creating and distributing counterfeit pharmaceuticals are usually discovered when the culprits are apprehended; determining the prevalence is challenging.
Even though drug counterfeiting is not a new occurrence, it has become more pervasive in recent years, causing increased alarm. According to Forbes, sometime in 2018, counterfeiting was the most significant criminal enterprise in the world. According to research on March 23, 2020, by the EUIPO and the OECD, international commerce in counterfeit pharmaceutical items reached over USD45.8 billion in 2016.
Counterfeit Drugs During the COVID-19 Pandemic Crisis
Common counterfeiting targets include chemotherapeutic pharmaceuticals, antibiotics, vaccinations, erectile dysfunction treatments, weight loss aids, hormones, analgesics, steroids, antihistamines, antivirals, and antianxiety medications. Consumers who misuse prescriptions or attempt to get meds at a discount are among those tricked into purchasing counterfeit drugs. Counterfeit drugs are typically made to seem precisely like legitimate medications, with nearly identical labels and tablets, deceiving unsuspecting pharmacists and patients. Drug counterfeiters have been documented to make fraudulent tablets out of cheap and occasionally dangerous ingredients such as brick dust, sheetrock, and wheat.
However, at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, counterfeit pharmaceuticals focused in curing and preventing COVID-19, such as corona tests, medical gadgets, masks, ventilators, gloves, and other items, have been flooding the international market.
For the prevention and treatment of COVID-19, many illegal online stores throughout the world advertised and sold counterfeit medications and fake vaccines. In March 2020, a huge number of new domain names, including phrases like “covid,” “corona,” and “virus,” were registered to attempt to profit from counterfeit COVID-19-related drugs.
Counterfeiting pharmaceuticals is not only unlawful but also dangerous to the public’s health. Counterfeit medications frequently have the correct chemicals in the wrong amounts, but they may also contain a different API, which might be toxic or no active substance at all. Treatment with ineffective counterfeit pharmaceuticals, such as antibiotics, can form resistant organisms, which can harm a large portion of the population. Counterfeit medications have been known to cause mortality in some circumstances.
Blockchain: The Solution
Pharmaceutical businesses endeavor to keep an eye on their suppliers and verify that the products in their supply chain are of good quality and authentic. However, ensuring total supply chain protection has been challenging until the introduction of Blockchain in the drug supply chain.
Blockchain Technology is the most effective anti-counterfeiting solution. It has the potential to deliver an extreme level of supply chain transparency, as well as the best protection against counterfeit medications entering the supply chain. Blockchain is built on Distributed Ledger Technology (DLT), allowing data to be stored decentralized rather than centrally. Each entry is encrypted separately, and any update must be validated by all of the system’s distributed nodes. This makes hacking a Blockchain nearly impossible. Data can no longer be tampered with once it has been stored. As a result, the technology makes detecting fraud and weak spots in the supply chain much easier. This provides firms with complete supply chain visibility as well as the best possible counterfeit prevention.
Blockchain also allows the consumer to check the legitimacy of the purchased drugs by using an application to scan a QR code on the product package. This allows any buyer to promptly identify whether their drugs are genuine or counterfeit.
Blockchain solutions are interoperable with other known technologies such as NFC, RFID, and GPS and merging Distributed Ledger Technology and QR codes. All of these technologies rely on the transmission of data without the use of physical contact.
As a result, employing Blockchain Technology for Supply Chain may ensure product authenticity at the most significant degree feasible. At the same time, Blockchain will provide an excellent deterrent to counterfeiters because it is relatively straightforward to establish where and when the counterfeit products have been penetrated in the supply chain.
With this, it’s no surprise to see many businesses venture in Blockchain Technology during this pandemic. Its potential to deliver transparency and security while also saving human lives is apparent.
Counterfeit drugs may harm a patient’s health. Adverse side effects, treatment failure, resistance, toxicity, and even death can all come from the use of poor medications. Pharmaceutical businesses, healthcare professionals, pharmacists, and patients must all be informed about counterfeit pharmaceuticals and the regulations to combat them. The growing issue of counterfeit pharmaceuticals may begin to fade with the increased use of Blockchain.