DOCTOR'S VIEW ARCHIVE

Radio ID Tags For US Drugs

Medical Authors and Editors: Barbara K. Hecht, Ph.D. and Frederick Hecht, M.D.

November 15, 2004 -- The Food and Drug Administration and major drug makers are expected to announce today that they will put tiny radio antennas on the labels of millions of medicine bottles to combat counterfeiting, according to Gardiner Harris writing in The New York Times today. The tagged medicine bottles will, at first, be only the large ones from which druggists get the pills to fill prescriptions but experts do not expect the technology to stop there.

Perspective

Although The New York Times has this story today on the front page, it is not really a new story. Last February the FDA called for the voluntary use of radio frequency identification (RFID) systems by drugmakers and distributors by 2007.

The FDA has repeatedly reported that there has been an increase in drug counterfeiting over the past several years. Counterfeit drugs can harm consumers. And they clearly cut into the profits of drug companies.

RFID Tags

RFID technology is also not new. It was used in World War II by the British to distinguish their returning planes from incoming German ones. The British planes were outfitted with an early version of an RFID tag.

An RFID tag is a device for remotely storing and retrieving data. The tag may be a little sticker that can be attached to a medicine bottle (or airplane). The tag contains an antenna that enables it to receive and respond to a radiofrequency "query" from an RFID device called a transceiver.