Driven by increasingly complex supply chains, a lack of enforcement capacity, the expansion of ecommerce and more sophisticated counterfeiters and counterfeiting methods, the U.S. Food & Drug Administration estimates that approximately 10% of all pharmaceuticals currently sold globally are illicit – and this figure is continuing to grow.

The illicit trade is also relentless in its efforts. For example, in countries such as China, counterfeiters pay patients leaving pharmacies for their genuine drug boxes, filling them with false products afterwards.

Not only can this growth in counterfeit medicines be extremely dangerous to patients, but also harmful to the brand owners that manufacture the legitimate product. Clearly, patients are likely to lose confidence in a brand if it is widely counterfeited.

To address this threat, many anti-counterfeiting measures have been identified by pharmaceutical companies and governments alike, and are now being implemented around the world. As a result, pharmaceutical companies are now implementing stricter security measures that alert consumers when a product has been altered in any way.

Tamper verification

A key aspect to addressing counterfeiting is the implementation of tamper verification, which provides a visual indication of whether packaging has been opened or altered since the product was packed and shipped from the manufacturer. It allows consumers to personally confirm that the contents are authentic, which reinforces the product’s safety, as well as the brand’s legitimacy.

Tamper verification can be addressed through a variety of different methods. One of the most effective and widely used methods is the use of tamper verification labels, which are popular due to their versatility (in that they can be applied to multiple packaging types and formats), ease of use and ability to carry branded information to the consumer. Three packaging strategies that pharmaceutical organizations are increasingly including in their portfolios are fibre tear labels, void release labels and frangible film labels.

When choosing a tamper verification label, it is important for manufacturers to consider the consumer experience with the product, and how it will be impacted by the application and use of the label.

Tamper verification labels are available with varying levels of sophistication. At entry level, straightforward fibre tear labels use a permanent adhesive that, when removed, irreversibly damages both the print and the board of the carton to which it is affixed. However, from a consumer’s perspective, the removal of the label may leave behind unsightly remnants on the packaging, to the point where some may not want to use the same box to store any remaining medication. As a result, their overall product experience could be impacted, as they may be left with a negative impression of the brand rather than appreciate the tamper verification that has been provided. 

Void release labels present a more aesthetically pleasing experience than fibre tear labels, leaving behind a visual cue on the original packaging upon removal. This cue can be in the form of a void message or a specifically designed pattern. These labels indicate that the product has been tampered with but keep the pack intact, maintaining the consumer’s impression of the brand. Additionally, the upscale look of a specially designed pattern can help consumers identify that the seal and associated remaining image on the original packaging were intended to protect them – giving them confidence in the authenticity of the product.

Even more advanced than void release are frangible film labels, which include a substrate that disintegrates the label when consumers attempt to remove it from the carton.

Multi-layer approach

Tamper evident labels can be provided with a variety of different features applied that help consumers engage with the label and the brand. For example, adding a finger-lift feature to a fibre tear or void release label can help consumers remove it and gain access to the package in the intended way. In addition, these labels represent an opportunity for brand owners to highlight their offering and value proposition using relevant information.

Essentra ( advocates implementing multiple measures to provide enhanced security, as by combining both overt and covert technologies, pharmaceutical manufacturers can make it as difficult as possible for counterfeiters to succeed.

As regulations are becoming stricter and the volume of falsified products is increasing, it is imperative that companies can deal with the threat posed by counterfeiters to protect brand identity, guarantee that patients are taking the correct medicines and comply with new legislation.

Essentra is a leading international supplier of specialist plastic, fibre, foam and packaging products with four strategic business units: distribution, specialist technologies, health & personal care packaging and filter products. Headquartered in the United Kingdom, Essentra’s global network extends to 33 countries and includes 9,000 employees, 69 principal manufacturing facilities, 64 sales & distribution operations and five research & development centers.

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