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How Blockchain Can Help The Fight Against The Global Illicit Drug Market

Author: Melissa Crooks
by Melissa Crooks
Posted: Jul 31, 2018

The survey carried out in September 2017, by Interpol, an international policy agency, shows that cancer-combating drugs, epileptic medicine, and pain relief drugs, worth 51 million US dollars were among the 25 million fake drugs impounded in operation carried out by Operation Pangea X. According to an operation conducted in 123 countries, more than 3,580 recognized website's market counterfeit drugs. These websites where apprehended offline.

Many of the fake drugs marketed online might contain incorrect ingredients or comprise a wrong amount of the correct ingredients. Some might have expired or even become contaminated. In a survey carried out by the international policy agency, 1 in 10 drugs prescribed virtually in all nations of the world are counterfeit. Interpol estimated these fake drugs are the responsible for more than a million deaths (recorded every year with this figure increasing in number daily).

An annual estimate done by the World Customs Organization shows that counterfeit drugs make sales worth $220 billion. Marketing of these counterfeit medicines is a lucrative enterprise goaded by an increase in funding cheap drugs from online pharmacies. The primary element impelling the continuous patronage of online pharmacies is the ever-rising price of these drugs.

According to a certain report by the growing communities and opportunities development director for the IEEE Standards Association's Global Business Strategy and Intelligence group, Maria Palombini, the present pharmaceutical supply-chain infrastructure has paved the way for the timeserving gap that feeds the growth of fake drugs.

Blockchain technology, the central ledger system for Bitcoin transaction, is discoursed as a way to optimize and procure the pharmaceutical supply chain, although, a lot is not known about the pharmaceutical supply chain. An independent report conduted by the IEEE Standards Chain, and is presently available for purchase, accessible on a technology platform designed by the Pharmaceutical Manufacturers Supply-chain of the U.S.

Report Details

The U.S Pharmaceutical Supply Chain consists primarily of three trading partners, including:

  • Manufacturers
    • Wholesalers
  • Dispensaries

Partners must work together to make distribution of these drugs from the manufacturer to targeted patients effective, and secure. To achieve this primary goal of reaching the patient, "partners must have the ability to see and share their data" said Maria Palombini.

She also added "the current legacy platforms available do not effectively allow for the ability to handle the balance between data sharing and keeping privacy in a tamperproof and verifiable environment," According to Maria Palombini, the former edition of the survey is centered on the U.S. distribution model because the U.S. pharmaceutical marketplace is the largest in the world. The survey carried out strictly adheres to the deference according to the FDA's Drug Supply Security Act Track and trace guidelines.

The IEEE received reports from 300 representatives presently exploring the blockchain technology or customers currently using a testing version in their operations. These representatives are wholesalers, manufacturers, and dispensaries. This information gathered from the survey sense both the benefits and roadblock to achieving adoption. Future versions to be developed will as well focus on other markets such as Asian, European and Latin American markets.

Maria Palombinisaid "the IEEE's interest in gradually advancing blockchain adoption into the pharmaceutical supply chain is of two folds," most of hype that seems misleading has been generated by the emerging technology (blockchain), particularly in the health sector. IEEE envisages that chances await blockchain technology to address compliance, optimization and security issues presently affecting the supply chain.

"If a balanced awareness regarding this technology's potential can be brought together while we set a standard that will reduce the barriers to adoption, we can then effectively help the affected entities combat the counterfeit medicine issue and ultimately improve patient safety as well as reduce the economic effects of this global epidemic."

What are The Benefits And Drawbacks?

The mastermind of the report came from the forum of the pharmaceutical supply blockchain that IEEE-SA organized at the John Hopkins University, Rockville, in June. According to report, more than 50 industry representatives were in attendance. Among many subjects of discussion are the benefits of the program and several questions were raised such as; who will own data? Who will pay for the block technology? What type of blockchain model should be utilized? And how do they get buy-in from patients and management?

Decentralization is one among the many benefits of using the blockchain technology. Encryption methods, and changeless recordkeeping, simply means, everyone that works with a single original record (which can't be changed or deleted) have to append it with updated transactions. Maria Palombini said thus, "as the drugs travel via the supply chain, each transaction will be time-stamped and by taking the record, this will form a record that can be traced with pseudonymity. " She also says that "the technology provides crucial trading partners who have permission rights and the ability to view every transaction, and know that the source of each record is verified."

The Technology "also makes it a possibility for patients to confirm the source of a drug on the blockchain. " "To get to this point, protocols and processes will need to change to accommodate that ability. " The technology also paves the way for the supply-chain executives to have more inventory visibility, so that they could forestall deficit and better accomplish drug recalls.

Maria Palombini also added that "the technology isn't designed to supersede or move beyond the existing tracking and tracing system, " rather "it gives them the ability to interoperate with other systems and allows for the required privacy as well data-sharing capability."

From the feedback received from some respondents, blockchain technology will be of help when it comes to complying with the Drug Supply Chain Security Act. While others say, they are not certain.

Finally, Maria Palombini also said in a recently conducted survey, that manufacturers are more engrossed with the demand for the system installation, security, and ability to perform with all networks." What disturbs the wholesalers and dispensaries is the credence of the technology by the public and also the challenges of using it.

What concerns all the partners is the visibility of the information and trusting other parties with the viewing of their company's detail, which will be exchanged. Despite such concerns, most of those who participated in the study said that they are likely going to escalate their implementation of the blockchain in two years.

A more significant percentage of the respondents unanimously said manufacturers should own the data and that they should have the financial responsibility of implementing the technology as well as conducting its maintenance. The primary conclusion reached by IEEE from the survey is that there's need for technical guidelines or standards that can swiftly facilitate the concerns of prospective users, the need for more education relating to the technology and its pros, the integration of networks and reduction of the cost of implementation.
About the Author

Melissa Crooks is Content Writer who writes for Hyperlink Infosystem, a mobile app development company in India as well as California and New York, USA.

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Author: Melissa Crooks

Melissa Crooks

Member since: Feb 28, 2017
Published articles: 2

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