(Your love is like) bad medicine

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I saw an amazing BBC documentary a few years ago called “Bad Medicine” – the documentary focused on Dora Akunyili, the Director General of Nigeria’s National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC), and her efforts to eradicate fake pharmaceuticals/counterfeit drugs in Nigeria.

Before Akunyili took over her post in 2001, a staggering 80% of the medications sold there were deficient in one way or another. Some contained less of the active ingredient than was specified on the label. Others were past their expiration date. Some were filled with inert lactose or powdered chalk.

The stories she told were astonishing: after cracking down on the counterfeiters, they “”http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/programmes/this_world/4656627.stm">fought back … [burning] down Nafdac’s offices and threaten[ing] to kill her and her children"; “”http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1124289,00.html">snipers opened fire on her car … [and] a bullet pierced through [her] head scarf and grazed [her] scalp“; when the ”http://www.babyhearts.com/new/default.php?m=1">International Children’s Heart Foundation visited Nigeria to perform heart surgery on children, four died because someone had replaced the adrenaline with water. It was a heart-wrenching documentary about how far some people will go to make money, and how hard it is to stop them: the World Health Organization “”http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/health/3261385.stm">estimates up to 25% of medicines consumed in developing nations are counterfeit or substandard" and this problem isn’t restricted to countries in the developing world.

So I was excited to read a recent news@nature.com story by Katharine Sanderson about a paper that just came out on Analytical Chemistry’s ASAP. The authors used spatially offset Raman spectroscopy (SORS) to examine ibuprofen and paracetamol (acetaminophen), without removing them from their blister packs/bottles – the hope is that existing handheld Raman spectrometers could be turned into portable SORS detectors and that these devices could be used by people like Dora Akunyili to quickly determine whether or not a drug is counterfeit…


Joshua Finkelstein (Senior Editor, Nature)