Bar Coding Thwarts Illegitimate Drug Use

Pharmacy Times, Volume 0, 0

The serialization ofprescription drugs isa concept that maycome to fruition in the nearfuture in the United States.More than one company isworking on providing serialnumbers on each unit doseof prescription medication.Each individual pill will notcontain its own unique serialnumber, but, likely, lots of 30to 60 pills will have the sameidentifying numbering.

Technology will be neededto combat those who willfind a way to remove all orsome of the numbers todeter their identification.Like the defaced firearmserial number or the tamperedvehicle identificationnumber on a motor vehicle,obliterating markings fromthese pharmaceuticals willbe cause for concern for law enforcementto investigate further.

Technology will also be needed tomake the registration of these pills atthe pharmacy as quick and easy forpharmacy personnel as possible. Theserial numbers will have been registeredto wholesalers and then to retailpharmacies as they pass closer to theactual patients. Pharmacists will needto register the serial numbers with thepatient they dispense the medicationto, which will indicate the number ofpills prescribed, date, pharmacy, andprescriber information. This informationwill go into a database for possibleretrieval by a host of entities.

Law enforcement would be only oneof the benefactors of this technology.Uniform officers, particularly, are oftenin the position of recovering pills whilein the field, and have no definitive wayof determining whether the person inpossession is the person legally prescribedthe drugs.

Those of us in drug task forces makingundercover purchases of prescriptiondrugs on an almost daily basiscould use this information to identifythe ultimate source of the drugs. Whenlarger purchases occur, sometimes thesource is the actual retail pharmacywhere the drugs may have been stolenin a burglary or robbery, or may havebeen diverted by pharmacy personnel.

The technology could also be used tothwart the production and distributionof counterfeit pharmaceuticals—a typeof criminal activity that is unfortunatelygrowing around the world. Counterfeitingis not only an incredibleprofit-making operation,but the opportunity forunsuspecting patient dangerand even terrorism in thewrong hands is truly disturbing.Serialized prescriptiondrugs could prevent this dangerfrom occurring or couldquickly identify the criminalsource.

Many other potential advantagesexist for the serializationof prescription drugs,which should include bothcontrolled and non-controlledsubstances. As companiesshowcase this technologyand compete in the openmarketplace, it will be interestingto see how it develops.

I find the idea exciting forall of us who strive to keepour pharmaceutical drugssafe and in the hands oflegitimate patients who require legitimatemedical care. The potentialadvantage to law enforcement, healthprofessionals, and pharmaceuticalcompanies is tremendous. I hope thata reasonable and cost-effective methodmay be developed to implement serializedprescription drugs into the marketplace.Time will tell.

John Burke, director of theWarren County, Ohio, drugtask force and retired commanderof the CincinnatiPolice Pharmaceutical DiversionSquad, is a 32-year veteranof law enforcement. Forinformation, he can bereached by e-mail at, via theWeb site, or by phone at513-336-0070.