More than 1 in 4 morning-after pills in Peru substandard

Fernandez in labA sampling study of emergency contraceptives in Peru has found that more than a quarter were substandard, degraded or falsified.

The scientists behind the study found that 7 out of 25 different batches of emergency contraceptive pills (ECPs) failed to have the required activity of levonorgestrel, the active ingredient, reducing the likely efficacy of the products. 

One of the samples had a completely different active ingredient - the antibiotic sulfamethoxazole - while the six others did not release the active ingredient at the right rate. The batch containing sulfamethoxazole is thought to have been falsified, while another is also under investigation despite ostensibly appearing to be genuine.

To detect the fake drugs, scientists based at the Georgia Institute of Technology developed a approach using a technique known as ambient mass spectrometry (AMS) to quickly assess suspected counterfeit drugs and then characterise their chemical composition.

In addition to levels of the API, the analysis is also used to detect excipients, and the researchers are now trying to develop a portable version of the AMS tool that would be suitable for field use.

"A woman who does not want to get pregnant and takes these emergency contraceptives will get pregnant," commented Facundo Fernández, a professor in GIT's School of Chemistry and Biochemistry, whose lab investigated the contraceptives.

Falsified sampleSamples of ECPs were purchased at 15 pharmacies and distributors in Lima, Peru, with 60 tables purchased per sample. All told, the samples came from 25 different product batches encompassing 20 brands labelled as manufactured in nine countries (Argentina, Chile, China, Colombia, Hungary, India, Pakistan, Peru and Uruguay).

The study was sponsored by the ACT Consortium through a grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and is published in the journal PLoS One (April 18).

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