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By Patrick M. Schmidt, CEO, FFF Enterprises Inc.
Do you ever think about the supply channel for the products you buy? Have you wondered how a certain item travels from the manufacturer to the department store, grocery or pharmacy? If you’re like most people, probably not. Many of us give little thought to how a product we need arrived at a store near us. And, frankly, if the item is a pair of jeans or a vase, it makes little difference whether it changed hands many times or was left sitting in the back of a truck before being neatly stocked in a department store display. But if that item changing hands is a life-saving biopharmaceutical, the potential risks associated with a shady supply chain increase dramatically.
Many people don’t realize that in addition to numerous possible kinks in the distribution chain, the pharmaceutical market is rife with what are known as “gray marketers,” distributors who will do anything to make a profit. In some instances, these criminal distributors go so far as to dilute products with tap water to stretch the supply, counterfeit the packaging and then sell the tainted products to other distributors. These potentially dangerous products end up on the shelves of your local pharmacy, eventually making their way into the medicine cabinets of unsuspecting patients.
The fact is there is often a significant lack of integrity in the traditional supply channel. Some industry professionals have been attempting to increase awareness of the dangers, but laws, enforcement budgets and attitudes surrounding this issue have been slow to catch up.
I have worked in this industry since 1988, and I am convinced that the supply channel is only as good as the people in it. I have also learned that the most effective, economic solution is what my company calls Guaranteed Channel Integrity: Buy only from the manufacturer, ship only to healthcare providers, and track every unit of medicine throughout the channel. It is my belief that the industry must embrace this model, and consumers must demand it, to keep drugs and patients safe. What can you as a consumer do to help? For starters, talk with your healthcare providers about where they buy their drugs and ask if they follow “own use” policy. Ask your pharmacist if the pharmacy has a policy of not dealing in the secondary wholesale market. Always examine your product’s packaging: Is it clean and sealed? Look closely at the preciseness of the labeling. And if a drug is either not effective or suddenly stops being effective, return it to the pharmacy and notify your doctor.
When patients begin to demand a higher level of integrity and accountability from their healthcare providers, I believe we will be one step closer to creating a safe and secure supply chain. We will also be on our way to seeing channel integrity become the rule, not the exception.