Detecting Fake Drugs with Spectrophotometers

Spectrophotometers are unique instruments used to analyze the color and appearance of an object. There are many different types of spectrophotometers, each with a specialized purpose. Recently, however, spectrophotometers have been used in the fight against fake and counterfeit drugs being sold on the black market.

Pharmaceutical companies carefully document the colors of their specific compounds both for quality control and for patent and trademark reasons. The chemical makeup and compounding techniques used to create a medication influences its color, allowing pharmaceutical companies to build color profiles for each of their products. When the color of a sample batch deviates from their standard, it is quickly identified with a spectrophotometer and discarded. Now, the same technique is used by government organizations around the world to detect and confiscate illegal drugs before they hit the black market.

Hoping to make a large profit, many criminal organizations use airports, seaports, and roadways to smuggle illegal narcotics and counterfeit medication. These illegal drugs are often comprised of toxic chemicals resembling legitimate medications and then sold on the black market or through the internet. With the availability of high precision bench-top and portable spectrophotometers in major ports and government vehicles, however, many of these drugs never enter circulation.

When an illegal drug manufacturing facility or individuals carrying suspected illegal drugs are discovered, mobile drug testing labs are used. These mobile labs quickly analyze the color and reflectance patterns of any confiscated materials using a spectrophotometer and compare the resulting data against the pharmaceutical company s product profile. If the materials are not consistent with this product profile, drug enforcement agents are notified immediately and the illegal drugs are seized.

While spectrophotometers have been around for a long time, their capabilities and uses continue to evolve. Government organizations around the world use these high performance instruments to not only detect illegal substances, but to prevent harmful substances from hitting the mass market, particularly in the food and pharmaceutical industries. As a result, the quality of what we consume is much higher

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