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Catching Fake Meds in a Snapshot

By Technology Review

September 10, 2009

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New York University researchers have proposed Epothecary, a system that uses cell phones to authenticate and track drugs distributed in the developing world. The system reads two-dimensional (2D) bar codes on drug packages and assigns them to distributors and pharmacists in an effort to prevent the distribution of counterfeit drugs through legitimate channels.

The World Health Organization estimates that more than 10 percent of drugs in the developing world are counterfeit. New York University Ph.D. candidate Michael Paik says Epothecary can significantly reduce the use of counterfeit drugs by providing a drug-tracking scheme. Under Epothecary, every shipping crate, box, and individual drug container would be marked with a unique 2D bar code that contains the name of the drug and the quantity.

Retailers and distributors also would be given a unique bar code. To buy medication, a retailer logs on to the Epothecary system on a cell phone and provides a password. The retailer then takes a picture of the distributor's bar code and the bar code of the medication. Cell phone software deciphers the information in the two bar codes, and encrypted information is sent to a central server. The server then checks that the distributor is the legitimate owner of the drugs, and the retailer can purchase the drugs and record the transaction on the server.

Consumers can receive eight-digit numbers from retailers that can be used to retrieve information about the drug about to be purchased to ensure that it is a legitimate product.

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