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Track-and-trace tags to tackle counterfeiters

BY Alaric DeArment

NEW YORK —The brazenness of the burglary of some $75 million in drugs from an Eli Lilly warehouse in Enfield, Conn., in March was shocking enough, but its effects will likely linger for a long time as those stolen drugs creep back into the pharmaceutical supply chain, probably via such illegitimate means as illegal online pharmacies.

Many of the stolen drugs may be detected before they enter the bodies of unsuspecting patients, but many won’t, and they could cause serious harm to patients if they’re adulterated. But one company has developed a means of thwarting counterfeiters, making counterfeited drugs—as well as other products—easier to detect before they get to patients and consumers.

Honolulu-based TruTag Technologies, a spinoff of Cellular Bioengineering, has developed tiny tags that create a unique identification for drugs. Made from edible silica, the tags look like a white powder to the naked eye but can have any of more than 1 trillion combinations of custom-made spectral signatures, allowing products to be identified individually or by lot number using a hand-held optical reader.

“Manufacturers can change signatures on the product over time, or the lot number or batch number can have a different spectral signature,” TruTag Technologies chief technology officer Mike O’Neill told Drug Store News. This, O’Neill said, creates a “moving target that is another level of puzzle that the counterfeiters have to solve.”

Counterfeiters throughout history have found ways to get around technologies designed to thwart them. But O’Neill said getting around TruTags would be a little more complicated for counterfeiters, particularly because they would have no knowledge of when, if or how the pattern on a tag had been changed. “They would have to have much deeper insider knowledge,” he said.

In March, research and consulting firm Frost & Sullivan named TruTags the 2010 North American Pharmaceutical and Biotechnology Innovation of the Year, but so far, the tags have yet to reach the market. The company is testing them under a pilot program with an undisclosed neutraceutical company. O’Neill predicted it would be a couple of years before pharmaceutical companies began using the tags, though he said TruTag Technologies has been in talks with large drug makers.

One possible use for the tags would be as part of a track-and-trace system. For now, the chain drug industry has opposed mandatory use of track-and-trace systems. “[Track-and-trace] technology simply has not developed to the point that it is ready for across-the-board deployment, and thus a mandate would not be effective in protecting patients,” National Association of Chain Drug Stores president and CEO Steve Anderson wrote in an April 5 letter to The New York Times in response to an op-ed that had called for track-and-trace mandates in light of the Lilly theft.

For its part, TruTag Technologies doesn’t have an official stance on track-and-trace mandates but sees it as part of the solution. “We don’t believe track and trace is an end-all and be-all solution,” O’Neill said. “Any barrier can be helpful.”

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Retail clinics: Improved care at a lower cost

BY Michael Johnsen

WHAT IT MEANS AND WHY IT’S IMPORTANT Retail clinics. Save. Money. Without regard to who’s footing the bill exactly — healthcare payer or Jane Patient — retail clinics not only represent a significant cost savings across the board, but by siphoning nonemergency-yet-still-urgent cases out of the emergency rooms and doctors’ offices, retail clinics also can contribute to improved care across the healthcare continuum.

(THE NEWS: Study: Retail clinics save nonemergency patients money. For the full story, click here)

All told there were 119.2 million total ER visits in 2006, up 8.2% as compared with 2004, according to ACEP. Extrapolate that figure with WellPoint’s finding that 19.4% of those visits may be for nonemergencies across the entire nation, and the fuzzy math equates to an approximate 23.1 million non-emergency patients presenting across some 3,833 ERs. For whoever is paying for the cost of care, that’s an expenditure totaling $10.2 billion if every case were to present at an ER; as compared to $1.2 billion if every case were to present at a retail clinic. That’s the cost savings piece.

But cost savings aren’t the only benefit retail clinics afford the overall healthcare system —  there’s a general improvement in care. According to the American College of Emergency Physicians, average waiting times for patients triaged with non-emergency ailments at emergency departments range between one and two hours, but only when the ER isn’t crowded. That’s like saying that bee stings don’t hurt, you know, except when they do.

Let’s face it, in a nation of 309 million and counting, there are simply not enough points of care, be it for an emergency or nonemergency situation. Taking nonemergency visits out of emergency rooms would likely improve the efficiency of care for more critical patients, as well as the experience of care for noncritical patients. That’s the improved care piece.

Improved care at a lower cost, that’s what retail clinics bring to the table.

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Tide brings Loads of Hope to Dollar General

BY Allison Cerra

NASHVILLE Tide brought its mobile laundromat to a local Dollar General to benefit victims of the recent floods.

Tide’s Loads of Hope program visited a Nashville Dollar General May 12 to provide customers in the area with clean laundry. One truck and a fleet of vans house more than 32 energy-efficient washers and dryers that are capable of cleaning over 300 loads of laundry every day. Tide washs, dries and folds the clothes for these families for free.

The Loads of Hope program also benefited victims of Hurricanes Katrina and Ike, in addition to other natural disasters.

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