The spurious drug industry is well established in India. According to the World Health Organisation 35 percent of the world’s spurious drugs are produced in India, followed by Nigeria. In a recent case a 10-year old Kantabanji based fake medicine manufacturing racket was busted in Bolangir, Orissa. The incident compelled Naveen Pattnaik, Chief Minister, Orissa, to order a probe to understand the ‘modus operandi’ that exists in this trade and also find specific solutions to counter the spurious drug menace.
Following this another fake drug manufacturing unit uncovered, run by allegedly the same persons, confirmed the magnitude of the problem. During the recent raid spurious life-saving drugs apart from empty bottles, stickers, wrappers, labels, chemicals and machines meant for concoction of medicine was revealed. Police also found genuine medicines which were diluted and bottled.
Although nothing new, as such nefarious activities are rampant, this particular incident took an ugly turn when public protests all over Bolangir broke out. Public ire at being fooled by trusted drug units resulted in the mob ransacking five medical shops in Kantabanji town. Reports of people’s protests poured in from smaller towns of the district such as Titlagarh and Patnagarh, till the district administration clamped prohibitory orders to prevent further untoward incidents.
THE SPURIOUS DRUG NETWORK
Orissa, the poorest state on the eastern coast of India may not have facilities for standard health care, but several drug dealers operating in the State are thriving by producing killer medicines. The case of the manufacturer Agarwal, unearthed in July last year is a pointer towards the extent and degree of such operations. Orissa’s Bolangir district was a safe location for large scale production of spurious medicines to be circulated all over the country. Fake drugs worth Rs 20 million were seized, indicating that playing with human lives is a well-established profitable trade. Owner of the fake drugs manufacturing unit Sankarlal Agarwal of Kantabanji town, admitted that fake medicines were supplied wholesale to the neighbouring states of Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, cities like Bangalore and Kolkata, apart from most places in Orissa. Stickers of branded medicine companies were printed in Kolkata and prepared strips made the bottles resemble the original ones. He also had a functioning head office at Paschim Vihar, New Delhi, while the medicines manufactured there were marketed by a Bangalore based company. The racket has been allegedly running for 15 long years, without detection and without interventions by drug control authorities.
Most medicine stores in the country are run by personnel without pharmacy education although it is mandatory to get a license for running medicine store. About 22,238 licenses were issued by the State department. However, to ascertain whether all stockists and retailers are the same or whether the medicine shops are run by ineligible persons is an uphill task especially with the hand in glove nexus between government and pharmacy.
About 500 new medicine shops open in Orissa every year, yet few questions are asked and if any objection is at all raised the State Drugs Controller never cites it as callousness or deliberate negligence, but it shows insufficient manpower as the reason for its inattentiveness in checking such malpractices. The State Drugs Controller claimed that in Orissa’s 30 districts, 9 don’t have any drug inspectors, and 100 additional drugs inspectors would need to be recruited for regular inspection of chemist shops.
COUNTERING SPURIOUS DRUGS
The manufacture of spurious drugs is a clandestine activity indulged in by unlicensed manufacturer like Agarwal. One of the most effective ways to fight against counterfeit and spurious drugs is the use of stringent legal policies. Legal provisions – Drugs and Cosmetics Act, 1940, Prevention of Food Adulteration Act, 1954, Trade Mark Act, 1999, Indian Copyright Act, 1957 and Consumer Protection Act, 1986 – should help administration to curb the spurious drugs menace. However, further restrictions should be imposed in licensing of retail pharmacies to avoid agglomeration and nodal officers in each state and zonal office should be appointed to communicate the status of drugs and advisory bodies constituted at district level in consultation with the NGOs to deal with drug related issues. Besides, recommendations of the Mashelkar committee on spurious drugs should be enforced to curb the fake drug menace.
Government records do not corroborate the impact of fake medicines on general public. A series of incidents linked with public life has put question mark on the efficiency of the State’s health administration and the social responsibility of its officials. Although prosecutions are launched against the offenders in the case of detection, stringent redressals are required urgently if the stakes on human lives have to be lowered.