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Drug makers target counterfeits

Companies test high-tech tags in bid to detect fakes

DELRAN, N.J. -- Big pharmaceutical companies are testing new tracking technology they hope will help them spot counterfeit drugs before they reach consumers' medicine cabinets.

By putting tags that transmit radio waves on medicine bottles sent to drugstores, company officials think they will be able to detect fake drugs that aren't moving through usual supply chains.

The drug companies' concerns about counterfeiting have aroused skepticism among some who see the issue as a way to scare Americans away from buying cheaper drugs from foreign countries. Still, efforts to implement radio frequency identification technology, or RFID, are gaining momentum.

A distribution center in Delran, owned by wholesaler McKesson Corp., is one of a number of US centers involved in a pilot project shipping small quantities of RFID-labeled drug bottles from manufacturing plants to pharmacies.

There, a worker scans a box of tagged drug bottles and a computer runs through a list of scenarios involving theft, recalled drugs, outdated drugs, or other logistical errors.

The $3 million project includes drug makers such as Johnson & Johnson, Barr Pharmaceuticals Inc., Merck & Co., and Wyeth.

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