Researchers from the Saint Mary's College and the University of Notre Dame have developed a paper analytical device (PAD) the size of a business card to detect counterfeit drugs that can offer results in less than five minutes.
According to World Health Organization estimates, 10-30 per cent of the drug supply in developing countries consists of counterfeit medicines, causing hundreds of thousands of deaths each year.
The study modified existing paper-strip test technology to develop PADs that screen for substandard tablets of Panadol.
Panadol is one of multiple brand names used for the pain and fever reliever acetaminophen.
"Panadol long has been among the most common, standard pain relieving drugs counterfeited around the world," Toni Barstis, lead researcher said.
"In the past, you could just look at the labeling and packaging and know if it was counterfeit.
Now, they do such a good job with the package design it's hard to determine whether it's a package of the genuine medicine or a fake that contains no acetaminophen or even ingredients that may be harmful," Barstis said in a statement.
Many fake pharmaceuticals are marketed as cures for infections, malaria, and the flu. Some contain acetaminophen, which reduces pain and fever, but do not contain the active ingredient to combat these diseases, Barstis added.
Since the Panadol PAD checks for the presence of acetaminophen, it can be modified to test the other drugs.
The study was presented in Philadelphia at the 244th National Meeting and Exposition of the American Chemical Society (ACS).