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Paper-strip Test: How To Tell Real From Fake


Counterfeit medicines represent a global problem putting innocent people's lives at risk. According to the World Health Organization, at least 10 percent of the drug supply in developing countries consists of counterfeit medicines, causing thousands of deaths every year. This problem is even worse in poor, developing countries in Southeast Asia and Africa, where past reports have stated that as much as one-third of tested drugs are fake.

All kinds of medications are counterfeited, from medicines for the treatment of life-threatening conditions like cancer, malaria, HIV and tuberculosis to lifestyle medications like Viagra to inexpensive painkillers like Acetaminophen. The fake medicines not only lack the active ingredient, but also sometimes contain potentially toxic ingredients.

It is estimated that in the five years between 2005 and 2010, global sales of counterfeit medicines doubled to more than $75 billion.

Acetaminophen, a pain-and-fever-reliever, which is sold under various brand names, including Tylenol, Panadol, Aspirin Free Anacin, and Bayer Select Maximum Strength Headache Pain Relief Formula, is one of the most-frequently faked medicines in the world. To combat this menace, researchers from the Saint Mary's College in Notre Dame, Indiana, led by Toni Barstis, have developed a simple, paper-strip test that can identify whether Panadol is real or fake in less than 10 minutes.

According to the researchers, the strip, which is the size of a business card, is a chemically treated paper. To test the authenticity, the pill has to be swiped over the paper, and the paper is then dipped in water. The paper will change color if there are suspicious ingredients.

The test has been validated on 570 pills, including many with fake ingredients added by researchers. The Saint Mary's College has applied for a patent for the paper-strip test.

A similar test to identify counterfeit antibiotics, anti-malaria drugs, and flu drug Tamiflu, is being developed by Barstis' team.

The research was presented at the 244th National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society.

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