It's a case pitting grand intentions against market realities. California wanted to become the first state to require all prescription drugs to be tracked from factory to patient. The aim: prevent counterfeiting and allow any tainted meds to be traced to their source. The timing: couldn't be better, as the FDA continues to scratch its head over the source of a contaminant that got into the U.S. heparin supply.
But drugmakers, wholesalers, and pharmacists in California aren't ready. They can't afford the cost of tracking equipment, they say, and haven't settled on which of several tracking technologies to use. (Bar codes? Radio-frequency tags?) They're asking the state for two more years to get ready for a rollout. This after the deadline has already been extended by two years.
Of course, like many government mandates, this one came with no funding. Companies were told to foot the bill. And unless the entire industry settles on one tracking technology, drugmakers could adopt one approach only to have pharmacies be unable to participate because they bought equipment for the other one. Observers say the legislature is likely to take up the matter this year. Some are even lobbying to scrap the idea altogether. Either way, it looks as if this good-intentioned tracking system won't be operational anytime soon.
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