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Report cites need for drug tracker

WASHINGTON — Fighting the problem of fake drugs will require putting medications through a chain of custody like US courts require for evidence in a trial, the Institute of Medicine reported Wednesday.

The call for a national drug tracking system comes a week after the Food and Drug Administration warned doctors, for the third time in about a year, that it discovered a counterfeit batch of the cancer drug Avastin that lacked the real tumor-killing ingredient.

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Fake and substandard drugs have become an increasing concern as US pharmaceutical companies move more of their manufacturing overseas. The risk made headlines in 2008 when US patients died from a contaminated blood thinner imported from China.

The Institute of Medicine report made clear that this is a global problem that requires an international response, with developing countries especially at risk from phony medications.

‘‘There can be nothing worse than for a patient to take a medication that either doesn’t work or poisons the patient,’’ said Lawrence O. Gostin, a professor of health law at Georgetown University.

A mandatory drug-tracking system could use some form of barcodes or electronic tags to verify that a medication and the ingredients used to make it are authentic at every step, from the manufacturing of the active ingredient all the way to the pharmacy, he said. His committee examined fakes so sophisticated that health experts couldn’t tell the difference between the packaging of the FDA-approved product and the look-alike.

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