Earlier this month, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) posted an update about actions it’s taking to keep fraudulent COVID-19 treatments off the market. The examples of fraud the Agency gave illustrate why all industries — not just the pharmaceutical industry — need to embrace supply chain visibility. Let’s take a look at what the FDA said and why supply chain visibility is a panacea for the problem.
Consumer vulnerability, scammers, and unproven and potentially dangerous products
The FDA’s update addressed “the extremely concerning actions by companies and individuals that are exploiting or taking advantage of widespread fear among consumers during the COVID-19 pandemic.”
This statement reveals one reason fraud exists: consumer vulnerability. When people are confronted with a problem, especially one they feel they cannot control (such as a pandemic), some may tend to seek solutions without pausing to think them through. Peddlers of fake and substandard products are always ready to exploit this situation.
Which brings us to the scammers, many of whom use the internet to sell their bogus goods. Today, the FDA says, unscrupulous actors are claiming their products “mitigate, prevent, treat, diagnose, or cure COVID-19.” With the pandemic dominating headlines and weighing heavily on people’s minds, these quacks are only more than happy to offer unproven and potentially dangerous products.
What is the FDA doing, exactly?
The Agency has launched Operation Quack Hack to find and stop scammers. It’s located scores of phony products online, including fraudulent drugs, COVID-19 testing kits, and personal protective equipment. The FDA has issued 42 warning letters to companies making false COVID-19 claims and has sent hundreds of abuse complaints to domain name registrars and internet marketplaces, most of which have voluntarily removed the offending product pages.
One of the warning letters went to an organization selling fraudulent chlorine dioxide products as a COVID-19 treatment. When it refused to cease and desist sales of its so-called Miracle Mineral Solution, or “MMS,” a federal court issued a preliminary injunction requiring it to immediately stop distributing the product. The FDA characterizes chlorine dioxide as the equivalent of industrial bleach and since 2010 has been warning consumers about MMS and other products with names such as Master Mineral Solution, Chlorine Dioxide Protocol, and Water Purification Solution (WPS).
The FDA also intercepted and investigated a case of mislabeled COVID-19 “treatment kits” that someone was trying to import into the United States. Also, an FDA investigation led to a U.S. Department of Justice criminal complaint against a British man “who sought to profit from [the] pandemic and jeopardize public health.”
How supply chain visibility can fight fraud
Visibility means using data to gain insight into how a supply chain is functioning and to take steps to make it run more efficiently. The goal is to see everything.
A company must have systems that can gather and report data from one end of the supply chain to the other. Data should be as “rich” as possible; today, that means a digital supply chain with real-time access to unit-level data about everything from ingredients to temperature.
Here’s a rundown of how supply chain visibility can fight fraud. We’re using the pharma industry in our example, but the tenets apply to any product in any industry.
- You know the origin of your ingredients. Supply chain visibility allows a manufacturer to verify that all the ingredients of a drug are legitimate. It can track every ingredient up until the time they’re combined to make the drug.
- You can follow the drug’s every move: Part 1. After the drug has been manufactured, bottled, and packed into cases, you can see everywhere those cases go after they leave the plant — warehouses, stores, pharmacies, hospitals, etc. — and you can track their movements in real time. With supply chain visibility, you can anticipate traffic bottlenecks and reroute the delivery vehicle, keeping the shipment on time. You’ll also know if the delivery vehicle has been diverted from its prescribed route, which could indicate theft.
- You know if the drug has been harmed or compromised. Supply chain visibility means you’ll be alerted if there’s a problem with the shipment. For example, if there’s been a change in temperature, light, or humidity that can affect the drug’s efficacy, or if the cases have been dropped or jolted in a way that might have damaged the bottles, packets, or vials inside. And we’ve already mentioned route diversion and theft.
- You can follow the drug’s every move: Part 2. When the cases are separated (e.g., taken off a pallet), you can follow each one; when a case is opened, supply chain visibility lets you follow the individual bottles or packets all the way to check-out at the cash register or stocking at a pharmacy or hospital.
Supply chain visibility creates an “airtight” supply chain that leaves virtually no room for unproven, potentially dangerous, fake, or otherwise fraudulent products to sneak in. And if such a product does appear, supply chain visibility means you can remove it faster. After all, when you can see everything, it’s easier to spot imposters and get rid of them.
rfxcel can provide supply chain visibility in any industry. Our signature rfxcel Traceability System (rTS) is a full-stack visibility and track and trace platform that comprises solutions that empower end-to-end supply chain visibility, including:
- rfxcel Serialization Processing (rSP) assigns and manages unique identifiers for products to unleash detailed tracking down to the unit level.
- rfxcel Compliance Management (rCM) allows rapid adherence to government and industry reporting requirements of your goods as they move through the supply chain.
- rfxcel Integrated Monitoring (rIM) is an award-winning solution that uses Internet of Things (IoT)-enabled devices to provide real-time data about 12+ environmental conditions (e.g., location, temperature, shock) of products anywhere in the world.
- rfxcel MobileTraceability brings the power of an rTS digital supply chain to your smartphone, tablet, or other mobile device.
As FDA Associate Commissioner for Regulatory Affairs Dr. Judy McMeekin said, “It is imperative that we continue our efforts to find and prevent the sale and distribution of products that may be harmful to the public health.” Supply chain visibility is the way to do this. Contact us today to find out how we can help you.