York Professor Uses X-Rays to Find Fake Drugs Among Sea of Counterfeits

by Taneisha McBean

York College’s Assistant Professor of Chemistry Daniele Musumeci is an expert in many fields, but his most recent research in solid-state pharmaceuticals gives insight into the work and research being done at the College, specifically in tracking counterfeit drugs.
Using x-ray diffraction, beaming X-rays into drugs to see what chemicals they’re made of, Musumeci is able to examine drugs to see if they are counterfeit or not. Counterfeit pharmaceutical drugs are a global threat to public health and they undermine the credibility and the financial success of the producers of the original products said Musumeci.

Counterfeit drugs often appear in antibiotics, antimicrobials, sexual dysfunction remedies, hormones and steroids.  These counterfeit drugs have affected developing countries where drug regulations are ineffective, according to Musumeci.
“One of the most commonly known counterfeit drug is Viagra,” said Musumeci. “The Internet makes it easy for counterfeit drugs to be sold, because you cannot track the people who are selling it.

Scientists have globally decided to use a “micro” X-ray diffraction method, which uses x-ray beams to read barcodes and logos in a specific pill. These codes are not visible to the naked eye, according to Musumeci.

“If someone wants to replicate the drug it will be harder to do because they cannot see the logo by eye. You can map the surface with the x-ray and you will get the diffraction pattern,” said Musumeci.

The logos placed on the pills consist of suspensions of rutile powder mixed with corn syrup and zinc oxide powder. A microscopic stamp of a particular pattern is then pressed onto a thin layer of suspension which is then transferred by contacting the substrate with the stamp under slight pressure experts say.

“The more intense the colors are during the diffraction method, the easier it is for a scientist to tell which substance is present,” said Musumeci.

While testing to see the difference between the counterfeit and the original drug scientists will use a color indicator. Both rutile and anatase forms of titanium dioxide are approved by the FDA as indicators.  They are recognized as safe and are commonly used in dietary supplements experts say.

Musumeci advises that anyone who needs medication should go to a doctor or a pharmacy. This will ensure they will not receive the counterfeit drug or suffer from any health complications later on in life.

“Do not order pills outside of the country, it can be dangerous,” said Musumeci.

A large quantity of the world’s counterfeit medicines originate in Asia and end up in the Unites States and in Europe. China is the leading country when it comes to manufacturing counterfeit drugs. It is estimated that in China between 200,000 to 300,000 people die each year because of counterfeit drug use. Counterfeit drugs kill over 700,000 people a year. Many people are dying in Africa as well experts say.

Daniele Musumeci’s research is supported by the National Science Foundation Chemistry Research Instrumentation and Facilities program. More information about this research can be found on his profile page on the York College website. His most recent  article is titled Anti Counterfeit Protection of Pharmaceutical Products with Spatial Mapping of X-ray-Detectable Barcodes and Logos.

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