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Communications of the ACM

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Randomized Anti-Counterfeiting

numbered pills in a bottle, illustration

Consumers and pharmaceutical companies have been known to disagree over drug prices but have at least one interest in common: Neither wants the consumer to consume counterfeit drugs. The drug companies do not want to lose the sales, and consumers may have a critical need for the drug they paid for.

Counterfeiters have other ideas, however, so produce and sell packages full of fakes (usually simple sugar pills) in a $100 billion-per-year worldwide business. The drug companies have fought such fakery by incorporating special packaging (holograms, unique numbers, sometimes even electronic tags) on the drug containers. With so much money to gain by selling sugar pills for high prices, however, the counterfeiters have managed to copy the packaging very expertly.


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