Swedish pharmacists tackle fake medicines

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New technology designed to combat counterfeit drugs has been successfully trialled by pharmacists in Sweden, as a new EU directive on tackling fake medicines makes its way through the European Parliament.

The two-dimensional (2D) barcode system, which is backed by Europe's pharmaceutical industry, allows retail pharmacists to verify the product is authentic and check whether a medicine has been previously dispensed.

Pharmacy staff and industry experts say the technology could help keep counterfeit medicines from entering the distribution chain, and makes life difficult for pharmaceutical bootleggers.

The pilot project saw 100,000 packs scanned and verified - at the time of dispensing - in 25 pharmacies across Stockholm, in collaboration with pharmaceutical retail chain Apoteket AB.

The project also had the support of pharmaceutical distributors Tamro and KD Pharma, as well as the Swedish pharmaceutical manufacturers' association. Packs from 14 manufacturers were provided with the 2D data matrix, allowing each pack to be identified individually before being dispensed to customers.

The European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industries and Associations (EFPIA) said the technology could provide answers on how to protect patients from counterfeit products.

David Brennan, CEO of AstraZeneca and an EFPIA board member, said the pilot project demonstrates that the model could offer "a proportionate and cost-effective means to improve the security of medicines".

"Counterfeit medicines pose a threat to patient safety, so we want to be sure that the patient receives genuine medicine every time," said Brennan.

Stefan Carlsson, CEO of Apoteket, said the system was easy to use and did not disrupt the work of pharmacists.

"We were very pleased with the experience; the system integrated seamlessly into our existing Point of Sale system and normal workflow. Our experience of the Data Matrix suggests it will be valuable for preventing counterfeits and for other management functions in the pharmacies," he said.  

A review of the project found that the system identified fake packs as well as expired and recalled products.

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