True (Viagra) Blue

As track and trace efforts continue, researchers explore complementary avenues. The unique surface color of drugs may help people spot counterfeits through the use of colorimetry.

Researchers used a colorimeter to compare the colors of Viagra® tablets with “imitator sildenafil tablets” from various online suppliers.
Researchers used a colorimeter to compare the colors of Viagra® tablets with “imitator sildenafil tablets” from various online suppliers.

Anyone who’s selected paint colors for a home has quickly learned that even standard colors can have many distinct variations. The search for a “regular white paint” can unravel into an anxiety-inducing decision about how Ghost White, Seashell or Vanilla will define the living room.

But colors can vary in ways far beyond what the human eye detects, and that may be useful in finding counterfeit drugs.

The authors of a recent study in the Journal of Drug Delivery Science and Technology tested the use of colorimetry in detecting fakes by measuring the surface color of different tablets. The researchers used a HunterLab ColorQuest XE tristimulus colorimeter to compare the colors of Viagra® tablets with “imitator sildenafil tablets” from various online suppliers.

The technique could be affected by factors such as time and surface contamination. The researchers explain, “While not an infallible technique, data in this study demonstrated that colorimetry might be used as a simple technique to identify innovative products and potentially alleviate the pandemic of counterfeit medicines, especially in areas around the world where counterfeiting is prevalent while sophisticated tools for their detection are not readily available.”

The authors state that manufacturers could produce tablets “… with a unique colour combination that is difficult to emulate."

As track and trace regulations take effect, regulators and manufacturers attempt to secure supply chain integrity and stop counterfeiters. According to PMMI’s 2016 Pharmaceutical & Medical Devices: Trends and Opportunities in Packaging Operations, the counterfeit drug market is growing rapidly and Deloitte accountants currently value it between $75 billion to $200 billion. The researchers note that this colorimetry technique does not work through packaging, but may be helpful alongside other anti-counterfeiting measures.

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