SDSU researchers are tracking chemicals in counterfeit drugs


South Dakota State University graduate student Kyle Burch of Princeton, Minnesota, puts samples into a prototype that cools them and concentrates the compounds to determine a drug’s chemical fingerprint. Research to identify counterfeit drugs is carried out by the South Dakota Center for Understanding and Disrupting the Illicit Economy. Burch was interested in a degree in analytical chemistry from SDSU through a National Science Foundation Research Experience for Undergraduates program, also from SDSU. Photo by SDSU.

BROOKINGS, SD ( – Two researchers from South Dakota State University are developing methods that can be used to determine whether a drug is real or not.

They may even be able to understand where the ingredients of illegal drugs come from.

It is part of the South Dakota Center for Understanding and Disrupting the Illicit Economy.

The center recently received a five-year award of $ 3.9 million from the South Dakota Research and Commercialization Council.

It is part of an effort to thwart criminal activity and illegal trade on the dark web and other networks.

Read below in the SDSU publication.


BROOKINGS, SD – August 24, 2021 – If something seems too good to be real, it probably isn’t.

Counterfeit drugs often look exactly like the real thing, but they can put patients who hope to save money on prescription drugs at risk. These counterfeit drugs can be ineffective or contaminated, according to Interpol, the world’s largest international police organization.

Two researchers from South Dakota State University, as part of the South Dakota Center for Understanding and Disrupting, will develop methods to create a chemical profile that will help determine whether a drug is authentic or not – and possibly even where the ingredients are more illegal from Drugs stem from the illegal economy.

The center, which recently received a five-year award of $ 3.9 million from the South Dakota Research and Commercialization Council, aims to thwart criminal activity and illicit trafficking on the dark web and other networks. The multi-agency state research group led by the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology also includes faculty from Dakota State University and the University of South Dakota.

Chemical fingerprint analysis

Professor Brian Logue from the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry at SDSU and two PhD students will develop techniques to determine the chemical composition of drugs from different manufacturers and create a chemical fingerprint. Logue has been working with many researchers at the new center on security and counterfeit technology projects for 15 years.

Associate Professor Chris Saunders of the Department of Mathematics and Statistics at SDSU, who specializes in quantifying impressions, patterns and traces, will use statistical methods to find out whether a drug may or may not be counterfeit. “DR. Saunders will take the chemical information and statistically analyze the data to group specific drugs from different manufacturers,” said Logue.

Saunders, who has worked with the FBI and the wider intelligence community, has extensive experience applying statistical models to forensic evidence. “Chris is a great addition to the research group,” said Logue. A PhD student will work on the statistics part of the project. SDSU researchers will receive nearly $ 900,000 through the center.

Recognize forgeries

“The incidence of counterfeit drugs in the United States is rare compared to the large number of prescription drugs,” according to the Food and Drug Administration. However, when the ingredients or the pills themselves come from sources outside the United States, counterfeit medicines can reach American consumers.

Tracking down counterfeit drugs is the first step in disrupting sales channels. “Pills with no active ingredients are easy to spot,” says Logue. However, some counterfeiters simply package or shred stale pills that are said to have been destroyed and add a little of the active ingredient to get people to buy the cheaper pills.

Logue and his team develop methods of concentrating and extracting the compounds, using different brands of aspirin for proof-of-concept testing. “First we will analyze what is legal and then see what does not fit the profile,” explained Logue, noting that drugs that lower cholesterol and treat erectile dysfunction are among the most common counterfeit drugs.

Initially, the SDSU researchers will concentrate on drugs, later the project will be expanded to include controlled substances. To work with these, they must be licensed from the US Drug Enforcement Authority. “We need to make sure we have the right security measures in place,” said Logue.

“If we can determine where the counterfeit chemicals are coming from, we can work with other team members and experts to disrupt the supply chain and distribution network,” he concluded.


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