Online sales of drugs like pain killers and steroids, apart from performance enhancing drugs, have seen a rapid increase but with 10 per cent of these drugs being counterfeit, drug manufacturers are looking at hi-tech advanced labeling and marking methods, which will help people differentiate the real from the fake.

Pharma giant Sanofi is investing heavily into packaging and scanning of drugs so that it can help experts and also help them educate doctors and consumers to identify the products. Mobile applications to scan barcodes, holograms and watermark technologies are being used to detect fake drugs by pharma companies.

Dr S. Ramakrishna said, “Presently, we are not able to identify a fake drug. In the case of B 12 injections, we have been constantly complaining, as patients are not responding properly. Similarly, when antibiotics don’t work on patients, it tends to raise doubts. There are some patients who buy only from particular chemists as they get huge discounts. And at times, when the drug does not work, they are confused.”

The margins in counterfeit drugs are as high as 30 to 50 per cent. Chemist Association of India’s Dr G. Jain said, “When the margins are very high in drugs, people must cross-check before purchasing. This is the same model used offline and also for online sales.

The prices are slashed and heavy discounts are offered to consumers who get lured into buying these drugs. When that happens there are very strong chances of fake drugs making an easy entry in the market.”

At present, the drug control authority has no cell to entertain complaints of fake drugs being sold online. According to the World Health Organisation, every year about 7 lakh people die after consuming fake drugs which are sold under various categories like erectile dysfunction drugs, high cholesterol, hypertension, antibiotics, cancer and HIV/AIDS.

The WHO feels that monitoring the online trade would require tracking of payment methods and also of agencies like the Internet service providers and online payment agencies to trap the fake companies.