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Tamper-evident RFID for pharmaceuticals

It's another sign of the times we live in that authentication technologies including RFID tags, may themselves need to be made tamper-evident.

RFID and supply chain consultant Tom Ryan of TKR Consulting Associates comments about the value of TE RFID: "Tamper-evident tags definitely have their place in the scheme of things, but are only viable if there is a real savings or loss prevention motivation. Item-level serialization in pharmaceuticals hopefully doesn't mean anything beyond the pack or bottle that consumers take home. If that is how they are supplied to the pharmacy, then tamper-evident RFID tags could have value. But if products in the pharmacy area are as secure as they should be, then item level is the box or bottle of items from which the products are dispensed by the pharmacist to the patient, rather than on the package that the patient takes home."

At least two companies claim to offer technology that makes RFID tags tamper-evident. Mikoh Corp.'s Smart&Secure tags are not a visual feature, but instead are linked to the RFID tag's functionality. In its simplest format, the RFID tag is disabled if it is tampered with or removed.

Ink additive supplier Parelec sells an anti-counterfeiting smart label can be affixed on or inside the package. Printed with a silver antenna, the tag's paper substrate is designed to break instantly if someone tries to remove it. The compact 1.2"x1.4" RFID tag operates in the high-frequency 13.56 MHz range, which is more commonly used by pharmaceutical companies for item-level tracking.

Another option available to packagers to ensure TE is through embedded RFID tags. Several companies have done this or are working on it, including Owens-Illinois Healthcare Packaging. O-I is initially focusing on embedding RFID inlays in the base of its high-density polyethylene pill bottles (shown). The supplier says that the bottle must be destroyed to remove the RFID tag. Embedding the tag in bottles, O-I says, has advantages over RFID in closures, which are removable and can be switched among bottles.

- By Rick Lingle, Technical and RFID Editor
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