The patient as the last node of a secure pharma supply chain


One of last week’s news in Finland was the police warning about street sales of Rivotril, a benzodiazepine illegally used recreationally for narcotic purposes. At least one of the purchasers has been taken to hospital for losing consciousness. The sellers have been reported to be ”beggars on the street”.

Fake drugs are a grave threat to health: they may contain, instead of the suggested medicinal ingredient, other harmful or even poisonous substances. Also, authentic drugs that have been diverted from the legitimate supply chain may be a health hazard: the criminals do not care for the proper storage conditions: cold chain may have been breached and even durable medicines may lose potency if left in an overheated car in the sun. Medicinal packages may also have their contents exchanged to similar looking, but totally different pills.

To protect the public, health regulators have taken action around the world, such as serialization and addition of tamper-evidence packaging. With these measures, e.g. the European patients should have their prescription medicines authenticated by the pharmacy in the sales process. The protection given by serialization is not perfect but gives a good final safeguard.

All the investment to pharma supply chain security is in vain if the people take the shortcut to shady sellers of illegal drugs.

Illegal internet pharmacies, masquerading as operating from credible countries and with professionally made websites, give an impression to people to be a shortcut to prescription medicines. Some men, for example, who are too shy to ask their doctor to get erectile dysfunction pill prescription, see direct internet sales as an easy and discreet option. The websites are easy to find. The problem is, they do not check one’s prescription and thus the precautions for existing health conditions or medications are not taken. The other problem is that they do not usually care to sell authentic products as fakes are cheaper.

If the customers ever find out that the drugs are fake, they are shy to report to police as they should not have been purchasing the drugs illegally in the first place. Another problem for the police is that finding the perpetrators is notoriously difficult online.

In illegal online sales of prescription medicines, the risk to the customer comes in two ways: the health risks of digesting fakes, and giving one’s credit card details directly to criminals.

The pharmaceutical industry is investing heavily to implement serialization and track & trace technologies to their production lines. So are the pharmacies and the logistics companies. All this investment is in vain if the people take the shortcut to shady sellers of illegal drugs, for shame or to get medicines that are not appropriate to them.

Another issue is authenticating the medicines bought from internet pharmacies, as the patient has no visibility to the point-of-sale verification; a case for a mobile app with connectivity to the data repositories.

Photo: Helsinki Police Department, Finland

Iiro Jantunen
TkT, Teknologiajohtaja
Servicepoint Kuopio Oy
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