Drug counterfeit: Crime of the 21st century

The counterfeit drug industry is estimated to be worth USD 200-bn a year and Asia appears to be its single largest producer. According to BASCAP (The Business Action to Stop Counterfeiting and Piracy), “Pharmaceutical industry is the most counterfeited industry in India”. Ankit Tanna, director of Printmann Group is determined to help pharma companies fight drug counterfeiting and save our economy from the venomous business.

22 Jun 2015 | By Ankit Tanna

We, as pharmaceutical secondary packaging converters, often talk about the need to innovate or think out-of-the-box to give that one unique solution that will change the way the product is packed or more often than not, for staying ahead than the peers
But the time has come when we should take equal responsibility as that of the pharmaceutical companies to ensure the ‘genuine product’ reaches the final consumer. The time has come when we have to collectively take charge in ensuring that counterfeiting of the medicinal product is not possible, at all.
I would want to back the importance of this by stating some statistics. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) estimates that counterfeit drugs account for 10% of all medication in the US, while the EU believes that between 1% and 3% of the medicines sold across its member countries are fake. 
According to studies by the World Health Organisation, the counterfeiting rate among medicines sold via dubious websites is 5%. The market for counterfeit drugs has an annual estimated growth of 13% and was worth £75bn in 2010.
Even India is not spared from this threat. Last year an entire lot of fake drugs shown as ‘Made in India’, originated in China and landed up in Africa.
Pharmaceutical packaging trends to fight counterfeiting
The secondary packaging converters along with pharmaceutical companies are facing huge challenges to fight counterfeiting. These numbers not only hamper the global reputation of the pharmaceutical company but also endanger the public health in general.
To fight this menace many regulations are coming into place like the new EU Anti-Falsification Directive, wherein virtually all prescription medicines will have to be provided, as of 2017, with a unique code number and a feature showing that the outer package has not been tampered with.
The Indian government is not far behind. They have made the track and trace codes mandatory across all medicinal products getting exported from India. Drug companies have been sending their medicines to overseas markets including an obligatory sport barcode on their outermost packaging, since October 2011. This is complied to by almost all companies and it wouldn’t be long before any medicine getting exported from India can be traced back to the manufacturer.
We, as packaging converters, are also taking this menace seriously as was evident in International Packaging and Supply Chain Conclave, which was held on 11-12 June at Pragati Maidan, New Delhi, as part of PackPlus 2014, where counterfeiting discussion along with innovation took centre stage.
The trends in pharmaceutical packaging to fight counterfeiting are usually overt (visible) or covert (secret) in nature. But the future of anti-counterfeiting trend lies in a combination of these two.
The overt category includes the classical holograms which have been in use for quite some time. Holograms cannot be produced by traditional methods of printing. Adding micro text or images to it are to increase the security level of the product.
Another classical overt security feature is colour shifting inks which show different colours from different angles. Pfizer was one of the first companies to use this colour shift in the form of a logo to strengthen their stand against counterfeiting. This category is usually the cheapest for any pharmaceutical company.
Then we have the covert category which includes the security features which are not visible to the naked eye. In the recent past, UV inks or coin, reactive inks are used as covert techniques to fight counterfeiting. UV inks can be seen only under a UV light and company or brand logos are printed in coin reactive inks in an unvarnished area where the consumer can verify the product by rubbing that area with a coin. 
Another covert security feature, which is seldom used, is the use of glue on cartons at open/close points with special perforations so that the cartons can be opened only once.
The knowledge of the use of any covert technology to the final consumer is extremely important. This remains the biggest challenge for any pharmaceutical company.
The combination of the covert and the overt includes features which are not only visible as a security feature but also have secrets. Here, the biggest challenge for the pharmaceutical companies is the commercial trade-off between the costs of the combined security feature to the loss of sale to counterfeit products. This loss is due to the absence of the security features.
VOID seals are an apropriate example of this type of security feature. On the surface, it seems like a normal BOPP tape but when one tries to open it there is a back film with VOID on it hence avoiding falsification of drugs.
Another example and the one with the brightest future, according to me, is the track-and-trace, which, by printing a unique data matrix code on the carton or the label, when scanned can give all the information about the journey of the product. The database of these unique codes will be available with the pharmaceutical companies and hence can be verified.
As packaging converters, there is always a pressure on us by the pharmaceutical converters to cut costs. Thus, we must keep two things in mind. One, a security feature is a value addition and your client should be ready to pay for it and second, lead times are not going to change, hence try and integrate as much additional security features as possible to your existing processes and systems.