‘Every fourth drug in India is a fake’

Himalayan News Service

New Delhi, April 24:

The US may have busted a major Internet racket selling drugs with its base at Agra, but the business of producing and marketing fake medicines has reached alarming proportions in India. Drug manufacturers and experts say the problem has become so serious that virtually every fourth drug in the country is spurious, causing enormous damage to people’s health. Drug industry bigwigs estimate that as much as 25 per cent of all pharmaceutical products sold in India are counterfeit or of substandard quality. The periodic raids on some fake drug manufacturers or dealers, including in Delhi’s wholesale market at Bhagirath Palace, do not appear to be making much impact. G Wakankar, executive director of the Indian Drug Manufacturers Association, said, “Lot of people get caught but the prosecution becomes difficult due to lack of evidence. The only way out is for customers to insist on a cash memo for every sale so that it becomes easier to prosecute.”

“Some pharmaceutical companies are using the services of private agencies to do intelligence work to combat the menace of fake drugs that is harming several brands,” Wakankar said. The high profitability in spurious drugs is driving this illegal growth. Naturally, companies caught in the act manage to get a stay order or close shop only to open another unit elsewhere. “Our estimate is that 25 per cent of the drugs sold in the country is not of desired standards, which means one in every four drugs is substandard,” said Harinder Sikka of Nicholas Piramal India Ltd who has petitioned even the prime minister on the subject. “This,” he said, “is more harmful as it suppresses the problem temporarily but makes the person immune to it. It is the lack of regulatory mechanism which is giving easy access to psychotropic drugs and rise of substandard and spurious drugs.” Some fake drugs are so finely produced that even medical practitioners often cannot see the difference. “As illegal manufacturers of drugs do so under the name of reputed brand names, it is difficult for doctors to know which is a spurious product,” said Sanjiv Malik, national president elect of the Indian Medical Association (IMA). Both the medical and pharma fraternity allege a lack of political will to tackle the growing problem.

While some contend that the problem is more in small towns and village, others like Malik insist it is an all-pervasive menace. “The drug controller general, the central and state governments, everyone has to put in place a system to account for every drug sale. The problem is compounded by people’s habit of self-prescription,” said Malik. Experts said that unless the dispensing chemists insisted on prescription and consumers sought cash memos, little could be done to check the problem. Nearly two years back, the government appeared to be framing laws making manufacture and sale of spurious drugs a serious offence that could attract even death penalty. “The penalty for sale and manufacture of spurious drugs that cause grievous hurt or death should be enhanced from life imprisonment to death,” an expert committee headed by noted scientist RA Mashelkar said in a report. But with the change of government last year, the move seems to have been put on the back burner.

“We are surprised that despite a consensus across party lines for taking stricter measures against the menace, the government has failed to introduce the spurious drugs bill in parliament,” said Sikka. But Malik contends that even proper implementation of the existing laws could prove a deterrent to the culprits.