Counterfeit medicines: a pilot study for chemical profiling employing a different proposal of an usual technique

Maíra Santos, Alessandro Kahmann, Luiza Manica Caffarate, Laura Ribas Ucha, Renata Pereira Limberger, Rafael S. Ortiz


Gas chromatography (GC) is a gold standard technique used in forensic laboratories, including for the characterization of counterfeit medicines. When coupled simultaneously to flame ionization (FID) and mass detector (MS) allow the identification and quantification of medicines and drugs employing a single method, besides permitting the application of chemometric tools for forensic intelligence purposes. Here is presented a pilot project that developed and applied a qualitative method for the analysis of counterfeit medicines comprised by amphetamine-type stimulants and antidepressants, through a simple extraction procedure followed by GC-FID/MS analysis, with application of exploratory tools by Hierarchical Cluster Analysis (HCA) and Principal Component Analysis (PCA). The main purpose was to identify similarities between the all compounds detected in the irregular medicines allowing the traceability of illicit producers with the creation of a common data base. Through the analyses it was verified that different producers of counterfeit medicines labeled as Sibutramine, added a mixture of Caffeine and Benzocaine in their formulation, respecting the same ratio of 2.2:1. HCA was able to confirm these results, showing the presence of both falsifications in the same cluster, representing the best tool to identify similar characteristics among the samples – when compared to PCA. Other interesting finding was the use of Fluoxetine as a falsification of counterfeit medicines labeled as Sibutramine and Diethylpropion. Another seized sample labeled as “Nobesio Forte”, marketed as a mix of stimulants, showed only Caffeine and Lidocaine in its formulation. The pilot project applied primarily to 45 samples of counterfeit medicines containing amphetamine-type stimulants and antidepressants, showed the capability of perform the chemical profiling of counterfeit medicines in the solid form - powder, capsules and tablets. Further analysis can be performed for different types of medicines in solid form using the developed method, allowing the construction of a single database to perform the chemical profiling of counterfeit medicines, enabling the traceability of illicit producers.

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