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Tuberculosis drugs head spurious list

New Delhi, Aug. 13: Anti-tuberculosis medicines are the drugs most commonly faked. They are among the most sought-after medicines in the market as two million people die of the disease every year.

“Fake drug-makers are raking in profits with these medicines. No big-time company wants to manufacture them because their prices are controlled by the government,” says Harinder S. Sikka, senior president, corporate affairs, Nicholas Piramal, a leading pharmaceutical company.

“It is because of the government’s policy of controlling prices that big-time pharmaceutical companies do not want to manufacture medicines where there are no profits,” he says.

Only one major company, Lupin, manufactures anti-TB drugs at present. This leaves a huge gap in the market, which has been filled by small-scale drug makers.

A week ago, Nestar Pharmaceuticals was caught red-handed with fake anti-TB drugs in Jharkhand.

“This is the second time that the Jharkhand government has banned the company from manufacturing this drug,” says Sikka.

He says other drugs commonly faked are “antibiotics of all kinds, anti-cancer medicines and, during monsoon, anti-diarrhoea drugs”.

Recently, a drug dealer was arrested in Chandigarh with fake medicines worth crores of rupees. “He had filled life-saving vials with contaminated tap water,” Sikka said.

The value of the fake products market has been estimated at Rs 4,000 crore.

The fake drugs mafia uses every means to make money. Chalk powder and atta are the most common materials to make fake drugs; medicines that have crossed the expiry date are also sold. The mafia operates through a well-oiled network of manufacturers, distributors, stockists and chemists.

The government has no data on the magnitude of the problem or on how many people are prosecuted for selling fake drugs.

A committee headed by Raghunath Mashelkar submitted an interim report to Parliament yesterday on ways to plug drug law loopholes. The panel expressed dissatisfaction with the functioning of state drug control agencies. “We found almost all states lacking in this respect,” Mashelkar, director-general of the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research, said.

Sikka, who has been battling the fake drugs mafia for the last three years on behalf of the Indian Pharmaceutical Association, says the interim report will make a substantial difference. Monitoring authorities are very weak at present, he says.

Only seven of the 26 state-owned drug-manufacturing laboratories are functioning. “If you ask Laloo Prasad Yadav why are the laboratories in his state (Bihar) are not functioning, he will reply that he does not have the money,” says Sikka. There are just 600 drug inspectors for supervising 20,000 small and big factories, he adds.

The Pharmaceutical Association believes the Mashelkar committee’s recommending of harsh measures against fake drug makers will make a big difference. “Once implemented, these will be the toughest punitive laws against the fake drug mafia,” says Sikka. His association has been lobbying for years for “zero tolerance” towards spurious drug manufacturers.

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