Companies announce RFID drug-tracking project

Unisys and SupplyScape have begun a test project to track pharmaceuticals through the supply chain using RFID (radio frequency identification) or barcodes with the aim of cutting down on counterfeit medicines, the companies said Tuesday.

The "electronic drug pedigree" program will track distribution of Oxycontin, a narcotic used for moderate to severe pain made by Purdue Pharma LP, from the drug-maker's manufacturing facility to U.S. wholesaler H.D. Smith, said Brenda Kelly, the vice president of marketing who also manages regulatory affairs at SupplyScape. Oxycontin, which is addictive, was in news headlines in recent years because it became a high-profile target of fraudulent attempts by addicts to obtain prescriptions.

Technology for the project has been developed with implementation under way, said Todd Skrinary, partner at Unisys Healthcare and Life Sciences. Tracking is expected to begin in July, he said.

An eight-week implementation stage in the project will be followed by 60 to 90 days of monitoring the supply chain, Skrinary said in an e-mail regarding the announcement. State regulations that are evolving will drive the adoption pattern over the next 12 to 18 months, and subsequent phases of the project could include more products, distribution centers and the addition of pharmacies, he said.

Five states have passed laws with varying time frames for complying with implementing electronic pedigrees on drugs, and a stay placed on a federal regulation by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration will expire in the coming months, so companies also have to comply with those mandates, she said.

RFID uses very small tags attached to radio antennae that can be placed on products for tracking. The tags can carry serial numbers for tracking items through supply chains and have begun to find widespread use throughout the retail industry, for example. State and federal regulations don't necessarily require RFID tracking for pharmaceuticals, but that is one way to accomplish establishing a pedigree, while barcode systems are another, Kelly said. Laws generally require a record of which companies had possession of the pharmaceuticals and when, and to whom the drugs were sold, establishing an entire chain of custody.

Unisys is a global IT services and products company based in Blue Bell, Pennsylvania, and is handling project management, as well as systems integration and infrastructure management services. SupplyScape, based in Cambridge, Massachusetts, provides electronic pedigree software. Purdue is based in Stamford, Connecticut, and specializes in pain-relieving medicines distributed both by prescription and over-the-counter. Wholesaler H.D. Smith is based in Springfield, Illinois.

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