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Near Infrared Spectroscopy: A Big Help in Cracking Down Fake

by georgemelcher

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Recently, the Chinese government launched a massive crackdown on makers of fake drugs and medications--with resounding success. As of early August, police nabbed close to 2,000 people and seized fake drugs worth more than $180 million. However, experts admit that the fight against fake drugs has grown more difficult in recent years.

This isn't the first time China has dealt with this problem. The Center for Medicine in the Public Interest (CMPI) reported that Chinese authorities ordered around 1,300 factories shut down as they investigated nearly half-a-million cases of fake drugs amounting to $57 million. Fortunately, research is looking into the feasibility of near infrared spectroscopy to spot a fake when it sees one. It should, at least, reduce the number of fake drugs circulating in the market.

One notable study comes from the Semenov Institute of Chemical Physics in Moscow, Russia. The authors of the study argued that harnessing the speed and accuracy of measurements done using an NIR spectrophotometer can help identify a drug that may contain unwanted substances. It may be a costly option, but accuracy of results compensates for it.

The study tested various kinds of drugs such as drotaverin (for pain due to kidney stones) and metronidazole (an antibiotic). Both the real and fake samples appear to have identical amounts of the active pharmaceutical ingredient (API). In the drotaverin test, NIR spectroscopy revealed traces of talc in the genuine tablet while there were none in the fake.

In most cases, counterfeit drugs are characterized by the wrong API or an API similar to the one in the genuine drug. The researchers argued that a standard pharmacopoeia test failed to spot the difference in the real and fake tablets. But with the use of near infrared analyzers, the devices were able to spot minor but varying levels of a certain API.

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