FDA To Announce Plan To Use Radio Antennas To Track Medications
FDA and several major pharmaceutical companies are expected to announce Monday that beginning this week, small radio antennas will be placed on the labels of millions of medicine bottles for tracking purposes in an attempt to prevent counterfeiting and fraud, the New York Times reports. The radio antennas "hold the promise of cleaning up the wholesale distribution system, where most counterfeit drugs enter the supply chain," as well as bringing efficiency to other industries, such as grocery stores and airports, according to the Times.
Initially, only large medication bottles that pharmacists use to fill prescriptions will include radio frequency identification tags, which consist of a computer chip embedded into a sticker that emits a number when prompted by a nearby radio signal. The labels are "almost impossible to copy," according to the Times. The labels cost 20 to 50 cents apiece, and the readers and scanners cost thousands of dollars, making the new devices "far too" expensive to place on individual consumer goods, according to the Times.
However, the technology's price is expected to "plunge" once the devices become widely used, according to the Times. FDA officials are expected to announce that the agency will set up a panel to resolve any problems with the technology. New Jersey-based EPCglobal will "set standards" for radio labels, which will remain voluntary until 2007, after which FDA might require the labels and specify which types could be used.
Viagra and OxyContin, two of the most counterfeited and abused medications in the world, will have the new tags, the Times reports.
Robin Koh, director of applications research at the Auto-ID Labs of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said the radio antennas are "basically a bar code that barks," adding that the devices could "make supply chains more efficient and more secure."
William Hubbard, associate commissioner for policy and planning at FDA, said the labels could help ensure that reimported prescription drugs are safe. The Times reports that FDA "has been a fierce opponent of legalizing drug imports," mostly because of safety concerns. Tom McGinnis, FDA's chief pharmacist, said, "This is about securing the domestic supply."
However, privacy rights advocates and civil liberties groups have said the radio antennas could allow employers to learn what medications employees have (Harris, New York Times, 11/15).