Sucheta Dalal :Multi-billion business of illicit drugs thriving in India
Sucheta Dalal

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Multi-billion business of illicit drugs thriving in India  

July 24, 2009


While the top players of the over Rs850 billion pharmaceutical business are up in arms over what they call rampant spread of counterfeit drugs (allegedly 20% to 25% of total pharmaceutical sales) in the country, enforcement agencies and some pharmaceutical associations say the situation is not that alarming, reports PTI.
But, they acknowledged that there are areas, which have slowly gained the dubious distinction of being a major source point for such drugs.
Sources in central as well as regional drug enforcement agencies besides industry experts and police said Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Maharashtra, Haryana and even Himachal Pradesh are some areas of concern when it comes to manufacturing of spurious and adulterated drugs.
There are 'dawa bazars' (medicine markets) where one can easily get consignments of fake medicines especially in Agra, Patna, Lucknow and Ghaziabad, they said.
The maximum of such illicit products are in the 'fast moving drug category' which includes medication for cough, fever, cold and even Viagra, sources said.
Drug controller officials said the racket is so well entrenched that criminals have their own line of production and supply chain targeting mainly rural areas.
While the presence of spurious or adulterated medicines in major cities like Delhi is "negligible", sources said it has become a major transit point for drug cartels.
"Delhi has an excellent transport system and better infrastructure. Drugs come in from Haryana and Uttar Pradesh into the national capital which is then diverted to other neighbouring states like Rajasthan," an official source said.
"It does not need much investment to set up an illicit manufacturing unit. Such units can function from even small garages. The profits can be as high as 90%," the source said.
Early this year, drug authorities had busted a factory in Noida which was making fake cough syrups of a particular brand, frequently used by children. The bottles contained nothing but certain chemicals. They were being filled into bottles by using bathroom buckets and mugs, sources said.
Established firms too are not out of the loop when it comes to sub-standard drugs.
The Delhi Drug Control Authority had recently seized a consignment of a top pharmaceutical company after random checking conducted by it showed that a particular batch of tablets contained only 30% to 60% of the stipulated chemical component.
The samples have now gone for second testing after the company challenged the claims of the department.
The Directorate of Revenue Intelligence too busted two such factories in Maharashtra recently seizing about 2,000 kg of Alprazolam and Diapam tablets, used for treating anxiety and muscle problems.
The factories in Aurangadabad and Thane districts each had been making the drugs (sub-standard) without having any license from excise department and even Food and Drug Authority of India, DRI officials said.
Last year, two major spurious drug rackets were busted in Gurgaon and Chennai. In Gurgaon on the outskirts of Delhi, 12 counterfeit drugs were detected and materials used for production seized while in Chennai, three cases of illegal import of bulk drugs (2,900 kg) from China were detected at its port.
"There is no official data but various reports suggest that the spread of such products could be anywhere between 20% to 25% of the actual market," said Harinder Sikka, director of corporate affairs at Piramal Healthcare.
Countering arguments of large presence of 'fake drugs' as indicated by international research agencies and MNCs, Indian Drugs Manufacturing Association (IDMA) claimed spurious, misbranded and adulterated drugs account for below three per cent.
"Two years back, the Union Health Ministry had contracted a Hyderabad firm to study the presence of such drugs in the Indian market which it (firm) finally said was below even three per cent," IDMA executive director Gajanan Wakankar said.
"Though there is no specific data on the extent of such drugs in the market, the situation is not as alarming as it is made out to be. Let people who give such high figures (above 20 per cent) explain on what basis they are saying that," said assistant drug controller of India Arvind Kukrety.
He stressed that people should always insist on proper bill while buying medicines as this is the best method to curb the market of illicit drugs.
Wakankar, whose association claims support of 650 pharmaceutical manufacturers, said, "High figures of such products being available in the market is false MNC propaganda for obvious reasons. The harshest punishment should be given out to perpetrators of such crimes but then it is not fair to say that Indian pharmaceutical manufacturing system is flawed."
But on condition of anonymity many officials acknowledged the presence of such drugs and said the revenue from the same would run into billions of rupees even if ‘it not as high as it is made out to be’.

-- Sucheta Dalal