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The fight against falsified medicines

From December 4 to 10, Fight the fakes week is marked worldwide to raise awareness about the threat posed by falsified medicines to the global population. This year, the focus is on the continent of Africa, where approximately 1 in 10 medical products is fake, leading to nearly 500,000 deaths annually south of the Sahara.

In Europe, a verification system was implemented in 2019. Unique 2D-codes are printed on each prescription medicine package, allowing it to be traced back to the manufacturer. This is intended to prevent counterfeit medicines, ensuring that patients can trust the safety of the medications they receive at pharmacies and hospital pharmacies.

In recent months, this verification system has uncovered counterfeit medicines several places in Europe. The system was introduced with the aim of preventing counterfeit medicines from reaching patients, both through the dispensing of prescription medicines at pharmacies and the administration of medications in hospitals. Each medicine package is tracked from the manufacturer to the patient.

The system establishes a unique connection between the manufacturer and the dispenser (pharmacy or hospital department) of the medicine package by assigning a unique serial number to each medicines pack. The manufacturer registers the unique serial number in the European database along with the drug’s product code, batch ID, and expiration date of the package. The European database then transfers this information to the national databases in the countries where the medicine is to be sold.

Upon dispensing to the patient, the pharmacy checks the package against the national database for the verification system. This ensures that the medicine is produced by a licensed manufacturer and is therefore genuine and safe. If the package is not found in the national database or the databases of other European countries, the pharmacy receives a warning and cannot dispense the medicine until further investigations are conducted.

In addition to this information, each medicine package has a seal that, when broken, clearly indicates signs of tampering. This ensures that patients do not receive counterfeit medicines at pharmacies or during hospital admissions. 

Even though the issue with counterfeit medicines is not an immediate a problem in Europe, it also requires an effective system here, that both detects forgers from operating within our continent and detects them in their attempts.