What science goes into making medicine?

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Counterfeit medicines and fake drugs are a growing issue in Ireland, especially among younger members of society. Indeed, the internet has proven to be a breeding ground for counterfeit items as a whole; however, the distribution and sale of illegal counterfeit drugs including weight loss pills, steroids and sedatives are of particular concern nationally.

Fake medicine, officially referred to as ‘falsified medicinal products’, are substances that contain the wrong or no active ingredients along with unspecified materials. As such, the effects on the body are unknown and because of this, they represent a serious threat to the public.
This is in stark contrast to any legitimate and legal medication that must undergo years of trials. The development of medicine has an estimated cost of $2.8bn over a minimum of 8 years. Furthermore, the pharma industry is subject to the most stringent regulatory checks to prove that a medicine is what it claims to be on the label with regard to strength and purity.

With this in mind, there is an urgent need in Ireland for educational initiatives to inform, in particular younger digitally resident audiences, about the threat of counterfeit medicines and the important role of the pharmaceutical industry in protecting our health and safeguarding our wellbeing.

During Science Week 2019, SSPC will be presenting the Medicine Maker workshop. As the title suggests, the workshop will involve the audience making ‘medicine’ through the same processes that online counterfeiters would use. After an introduction to medicinal development, the audience will be given a medicine maker kit with a capsule plate, empty gelatine capsules, flour to act as an excipient and sugar to act as an active pharmaceutical ingredient (the powders will be unknown to the audience). The process can be adopted to be a full inquiry workshop or use step-by-step instructions depending on the audience. Making the medicine will take on average 15 to 20 minutes.

The activity provides many opportunities to discuss medicinal development, how modern medicines are made and what safeguards are in place to protect the public in Ireland and Europe. In achieving this, the audience will be shown real medicinal products to exhibit some of the regulatory checks such as labels, codes and seals. Moreover, medicine boxes provide a host of information to give the patient as much knowledge as possible. Knowledge is power and the workshop arms audiences with relevant information and gives them a cautionary, yet interactive and engaging experience.

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