Estela Arco: Identifying Authentic OTC Medications With Packaging And Markings

When purchasing over-the-counter (OTC) medication, it’s essential to ensure the product’s authenticity to uphold your health and well-being. Counterfeit medications represent a growing global issue and affect all types of drugs, including OTC products.

As a health-conscious consumer, knowledge of certain packaging details and specific markings on medications can help confirm their legitimacy. Estela Arco will discuss what to look for when purchasing your next OTC medication.

Legible, Complete, and Accurate Information

The label of an authentic OTC medication should contain clear, legible, and accurate information. It should indicate the drug’s active ingredients, their concentration, dosage directions, safety warnings, expiration date, and manufacturer’s information. Any smudged writing, spelling errors, or missing elements may be a sign of a counterfeit product.

Standardized Medical Markings

A distinctive feature of genuine OTC medication is the presence of standardized markings regulated by local medical authorities. In the United States, for example, the National Drug Code (NDC) is a unique 10- or 11-digit number that identifies the labeler, product, and trade package size. It plays an essential role in identifying medication and is typically printed on the packaging.

High-Quality Packaging

The quality of the product’s packaging also provides valuable clues about the medication’s authenticity. Genuine OTC products typically come in high-quality packaging, with consistently printed logos, tightly sealed caps or tabs, and correct product descriptions. Poorly constructed or misaligned packaging or labeling suggests a counterfeit drug.

Intact Package Seals

The safety seals on OTC medications should be secure and unbroken. Any signs of tampering such as a broken or missing seal, a damaged box, or loosely fitted caps are cause for concern and could indicate a counterfeit product.

Serial Numbers and Lot Numbers

Most OTC medications contain a batch or lot number on their packaging, which helps track the product as it moves from the manufacturer to the retailer. It’s a crucial element for recall purposes in the event of a problem with a specific batch. Serial numbers and lot numbers are generally harder for counterfeiters to replicate accurately, so their presence can help assure you of the product’s authenticity.

Presence Of UPC or Barcodes

UPC (Universal Product Code) or barcodes are applied to products for tracking purposes. They are used to uniquely identify most consumer products, including OTC medications. An unusual UPC or barcode, on the other hand, maybe a red flag about the authenticity of the medication.

Color And Texture Consistency

It’s not just the package but the medication itself that should be examined. Authentic OTC medications maintain consistency in tablet or capsule color, size, shape, and texture. Inconsistent or unusual physical aspects could indicate a counterfeit.

Presence Of A Hologram Or Security Thread

Some medication manufacturers include additional features like holograms or security threads in their packaging to make counterfeiting more difficult. These features might not be common on OTC medications, but their presence in a package could provide further assurance of authenticity.

Medication Price CheckAlthough not a packaging detail, Estela Arco states that price is a significant factor worth considering. Counterfeit drugs are often significantly cheaper than their genuine counterparts since they skimp on ingredient quality and R&D costs. If an OTC medication is considerably cheaper, it could be a counterfeit warning sign.


Ivy Skye Marshall: Ivy, a social justice reporter, covers human rights issues, social movements, and stories of community resilience.