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Counterfeit pharmaceuticals are a worldwide issue that affects both businesses and consumers.

Pharmaceuticals are a part of our daily lives. We take a pill whenever we have a headache or heartburn, and we don't question whether it's safe or if it has any side effects because we trust the company that created it. Companies are spending years and years on research and development to ensure that the tablets we carry in our pockets are safe and effective.

So we'd like to ask why counterfeit drugs cause such a massive uproar in the industry, and why we hear all kinds of stories about children dying every year from fake pills or suffering from severe side effects. The reason for this is that more than 10% of pills in circulation are counterfeit.

Counterfeit drugs are extremely dangerous. Every 5 minutes, a child is killed by fake malaria pills. Malaria is a heinous disease that takes the lives of tens of thousands of people each year. Consider how you would feel if you thought you could save your children but they died anyway because the medicine that was supposed to help them was fake.

The counterfeit market has a 15 billion euro turnover which is 10% of the EU budget. This is a massive loss for companies and citizens. The most common products can be pharmaceuticals where fake can account for up to 10%, cigarettes that can go up to 9 %, and wine up to 30 %.

What are counterfeit pharmaceuticals?

By definition, counterfeit drugs are dangerous. They are not manufactured under safe conditions, and they are not inspected by regulatory authorities. As a result, consumers have no way of knowing what ingredients these products contain.

Falsified and second-rate drugs may contain toxic doses of hazardous ingredients, resulting in mass poisoning. Poor-quality medicines jeopardize chronic and infectious disease treatment, resulting in the progress of the illness, drug resistance, and death.

Counterfeits may be sold on the internet or by untrustworthy websites masquerading as online pharmacies. Consumers may turn to online pharmacies for convenience, privacy, and cost savings; however, some websites sell dangerous or even lethal medications.

Where do illicit drugs come from?

An estimated 80% of counterfeit drugs are imported from other countries, with many being manufactured in India, Mexico, and China.

These pills may look similar to the real ones, but they may be produced in the wrong way. When it comes to production, tablets are made in a hazardous and filthy environment. They are not subject to any regulations, and an official body has not verified their operations.

The Signs of Fake Products

It can be difficult, if not impossible, to distinguish between genuine and counterfeit products.

Counterfeiters try to make the fake pills look as authentic as possible. What can we do to eliminate them?

What are the warning signs that we should be on the lookout for? The tablets are not supplied by a licensed healthcare provider. The pills do not come in proper packagings, such as a labeled pill bottle? The tablets are sold either individually or in extremely small quantities.

Without testing the tablet's components, it is difficult to determine whether or not it is a forgery. The colors may be slightly faded or they may feel a little different, such as not being as smooth as they usually are. However, these are not the measures that can be used to rule them out completely.

What are the most commonly encountered counterfeit drugs?

Counterfeiters will create a product that looks like any type of drug. Chronic condition medications, ranging from hypertensive drugs to diabetes medications, are the most popular. Antibiotics, corticosteroids, erectile dysfunction drugs, cancer drugs, and HIV/AIDS antiretrovirals are also among the most counterfeited.

Drugs containing no active pharmaceutical ingredient (API), an incorrect amount of API, an inferior-quality API, the incorrect API, contaminants, or repackaged expired products are examples of counterfeit medications. Some counterfeit medications may even be produced in the wrong way and manufactured under unsanitary conditions.

What impact do counterfeit drugs have on the industry?

The fake drug market is one of the largest in the world. Criminals have an endless supply of products to sell to millions of people in need of medication every day. While well-known companies spend years and millions of dollars developing a new drug with the help of professionals, illicit drug producers violate all rules and make their tablets however they see fit. They sell their homemade tablets to unsuspecting people all over the world under the guise of a well-known company.

So, what does this mean for businesses? With the need to develop new and better drugs every year, we all rely on these companies to continue their work. However, as counterfeit drugs become more prevalent, the pharmaceutical industry is losing revenue, which can have an exponential effect. Companies must cut their budgets and stop developing new drugs due to financial losses. This appears to be a temporary solution, and after a certain period, companies are forced to fire their employees.

How can NirWatchDog assist businesses in combating counterfeiters?

NirWatchdog is a software product that learns the quality of genuine products using Near-Infrared reflection and assists agents in detecting counterfeits. This enables companies to detect counterfeit products in seconds, greatly assisting in the identification of fake spread chains and reduction of counterfeit products' circulation rate. When working on the initial NirWatchdog product the scientists of Luxembourg University Interdisciplinary Center for Security, Reliability and Trust (SnT) developed the software to reduce the prevalence of counterfeit products on the market. In 2021 the project got the funding of the National Research Fund of Luxembourg (FNR).

Why should pharmaceutical companies choose NIR?

The main reason why SnT Team created NirWatchdog software is to combat counterfeit products. While every 5 minutes a child dies from a fake malaria pill. The rise of the industry of forged pill businesses requires a tool to fight counterfeiters.

This has enabled businesses to maintain and ensure that their customers have a consistent level of trust in their products. With the help of the Nirchawatchdog scanners using Near-infrared spectrometry, we can help reduce counterfeit and low-quality products that pose a significant threat to legitimate businesses and customers.

Electromagnetic reflectance readings from a Near-Infrared (NIR) Spectrometer are read and analyzed by the software. The comparison algorithm is made up of the scan results using an AI algorithm. This algorithm determines with a high degree of certainty whether the product being scanned belongs to the family of previously saved trained samples. This allows businesses to choose whether or not the product in circulation is illegal.

Inspection data is stored in an encrypted database on a blockchain, which includes scanned data, a digital signature, the location of the data, and its hash value. These are available at all times and can be used as evidence in court (subject to country regulation).

Areas of Focus of NIR WatchDog

  • Food production

  • Drugs and Pharma

  • Cosmetics and perfumes

  • Tobacco

  • and much more

What steps can you take to combat counterfeits?

As a citizen, you can look for red flags when purchasing drugs, such as doubtful websites, small quantities, or a product with a poor description or misspelling. If all of these have checked out and you have purchased your pills, you can double-check by comparing them in the bottle to see if they are all the same size, shape, and color, or comparing them to previous purchases. Unfortunately, even these precautions are not always sufficient. As a result, you should always buy your tablets from a respectable source. Also, if you notice any suspicious activity, always report these companies.

Companies, like citizens, are in a difficult situation. Combating these fake products daily can consume a lot of energy, manpower, and funds, which can have disastrous consequences in the long run. That is why our goal is to assist businesses in identifying counterfeits and growing so that they can assure their customers of their reputation and quality.

Let us not forget that even one pill has the potential to kill!


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