The fight against fake medicines could soon be aided by a small, portable device that quickly measures the hardness of a tablet, revealing whether it is counterfeit, according to research presented at the British Pharmaceutical Conference (BPC) in Manchester.
The study tested a series of dummy paracetamol tablets made with varying degrees of real medicine, versus lactose (an ingredient used by counterfeiters to replace the active drug). Tests showed that the fake tablets were harder than the tablet with the correct amount of paracetamol, and were more difficult to crush.
Counterfeit medicines often look identical to the genuine product, but can contain substances like flour or cement and very little active ingredient - which can have a devastating impact on the people who take them.
Fake medicines are thought to make up 1% of total drug sales in developed countries and over 10 % in developing countries, with the drugs of choice for counterfeiters including those for conditions such as erectile dysfunction, obesity and depression.
In the UK, during a five-year investigation, the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) seized over GBP1.5 million of counterfeit drugs.
Tests already exist that can identify counterfeit products, but these must be carried out in a laboratory by highly trained personnel. The new test can be done anywhere, using the easy-to-use hand-held hardness tester, which is currently used in the quality control of legitimate drug manufacturing. Potentially, the test could help officials easily identify illegally imported counterfeit medicines.
The project was a joint effort by Kingston University lead pharmacy researcher Dr Reem Kayyali and Dr Tahir Nazir, Pharmaceutical Scientist, Serentis Ltd, UK. Dr Kayyali said: "Hardness and resistance to crushing provided an accurate way of detecting fake medicine, even with small differences in active ingredients."
BPC 2008: Pharmacy in the 21st Century: Adding years to life and life to years. In 2008, as the NHS marks its 60th anniversary year, BPC will examine how pharmacy and the pharmaceutical services are helping to add years to life and life to the year of the UK population. The profession of pharmacy plays an important role in meeting the healthcare challenges associated with the UK's ageing population.
How can pharmacists contribute to caring for the population as well as ensuring quality of life? Increasingly, scientists and practitioners have to consider the cost implications of this conundrum, and the evidence base for all interventions is becoming of paramount importance: BPC 2008 will debate these issues and open up discussion on them. Visit: http://www.bpc2008.org/
The main sponsors of BPC 2008 are: Boots The Chemists (Lead Sponsor), AstraZeneca (Associate Sponsor and BPC-PJ Careers Forum Platinum Sponsor), Pharmacists' Defence Association (PDA) (Associate Sponsor) and GSK (BPC-PJ Careers Forum Platinum Sponsor).
Research released at BPC is published in the Journal of Pharmacy and Pharmacology (JPP).