The real task of ‘keeping it real’

counterfeit drugs

No one really knows the magnitude of counterfeiting and its effects; the problem is nobody can ever predict it correctly! We can only have the figures of the losses incurred after the problem has occurred.

The problem is much larger than we can imagine. It is seen that amongst counterfeit products, pharmaceutical and personal care products have been most widely counterfeited because they have high-profit margins and they are commonly used. The sad part is that these products are extremely dangerous to the well-being of consumers and to the reputation of legitimate manufacturers.

According to a study, “Counterfeit drugs have caused more than 100,000 deaths worldwide.” All the counterfeited packaged foods, medicines, cosmetics etc can pose serious threats to life. (source: Paper on ‘The Health and Economic Effects of Counterfeit Drugs’ by NCBI)
Counterfeit products originate in all countries, from underdeveloped to developing and developed countries. Distribution is worldwide, and legitimate retailers are often victims. Online retailing, in particular, is susceptible as distance selling and third-party fulfilment make it easy to represent the genuine product on a website, collect payment electronically and deliver a fake.

The process of anti-counterfeiting begins with Brand Authentication. There is no doubt that the manufacturers and retailers take every possible step to combat counterfeiting. But, in reality the counterfeiters are always one-step ahead in duplicating technologies and anti-counterfeiting measures. The real challenge for brands is to adopt anti-counterfeiting measures that are extremely difficult to detect or reproduce, easy for supply-chain and retail partners to validate, and also affordable to implement either alone or in combination. The two innovative and commonly used anti-counterfeiting techniques in packaging are:

  1. Micro-Text- It is a technique that involves micro-text printing. An extremely fine-resolution lasing method is used to create text on a gravure cylinder which is too small to be detected by a naked eye and can easily get hid within the overall package design.

Many microscopic line images can also be hidden within larger text or another image. These features can be placed anywhere on the package, and the micro-text can be changed and/or moved to a different location in subsequent printings. In order to copy micro-text, counterfeiters would have to know that it exists and its exact location. Plus, they would need sophisticated, proprietary pico-laser engraving equipment which is not readily available and impossible for a counterfeiter to engineer independently. However, the specialised gravure cylinder can be incorporated cost-effectively into a normal printing line, and the micro-text can easily be verified by anyone who knows where to look with suitable magnifying equipment.

  1. Hidden Images – Another method is to include a hidden image within a design element. An image that is completely invisible to the naked eye can be included within the package design, and can only be viewed with a special decoder. The user simply places the decoder over the package to reveal the image. The hidden image can be created as part of the normal printing process, and the decoder is simple and affordable for a security provider to produce. But the combination provides very strong security. Similar to the hidden image, the counterfeiter may not know that a hidden image is used and if used, its exact location would be difficult to locate. Besides, he will not have the correct decoder to discover what it is.

Micro-text and hidden images are two examples of effective and affordable security solutions in packaging but anti-counterfeiting methods should not be restricted till here only.

Brand owners can take every possible legal, technological, and business steps to prevent or at least minimise counterfeiting. The first task is to identify the problem of counterfeiting of your product which is not done in the majority of the cases until huge losses are incurred and it is too late. Always remember that every problem comes with a solution and the solution can only be seen once the problem is identified!