The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Cap on painkiller free run

Calcutta, Feb. 21: Painkillers and antibiotics are going off the list of medicines that can be bought without prescription after tranquillisers.

'We have put an end to the indiscriminate sale of psychotropic (tranquillisers) drugs,' said Abhijit Chakraborty, deputy drug controller, drug control directorate. 'It is now time to put a stop to over-the-counter sale of antibiotics and painkillers. Wrong use and overuse are causing serious ailments, starting from kidney failure to liver and gastro-intestinal and skin problems.'

Recently, the World Health Organisation listed Calcutta as one of the 'major centres' where tranquillisers, antibiotics and painkillers were being sold without prescription, leading to 'abuse'. Heeding the warning, sale of tranquillisers without prescription was stopped.

The Bengal Chemists and Druggists Association has asked all its members (about 5,000 in Calcutta) to stop selling these products without prescription. 'We might be businessmen, but it is also our job to stop the misuse of drugs, since the situation is getting out of hand. We are informing members to sell antibiotics and painkillers only on production of valid prescription,' said Samir Ranjan Das, the association's secretary.

Members have been asked by the association to issue receipts to customers for every sale of antibiotics and painkillers and keep records.

'The state government welcomes this move and we will support them in every way we can,' said C.R. Maity, director of medical education.

The association has urged the drug control directorate to stop over-the-counter sale of several other drugs. These include nasal sprays and drops, certain antacids and vitamins. 'Apart from being misused, many have become obsolete and does more harm than good. It is time to bid them goodbye,' Das added.

Doctors agree that there is abuse. R.D. Dubey, joint secretary (headquarters) of the Indian Medical Association, said: 'Misuse of medicines is rampant in the city. Anybody can go to a pharmacy and get his or her choice of antibiotics and painkillers. What the layman doesn't understand is that painkillers have adverse drug reactions which can even lead to death.'

The medical profession speaks in one voice on banning over-the-counter sale of painkillers. 'At this point, paracetamol seems to be the safest option when it comes to pain relief. The risk of adverse drug reaction from misuse of painkillers and antibiotics is grave,' said Susovan Haldar, a physician.

Another problem staring India in the face is the huge list of drugs banned in other countries, but still prescribed by doctors here because of minor changes in composition.

'Some of them are painkillers which cause bone marrow depression and anti-depressants which can cause irregular heartbeat. These are medicines that should be taken off the shelves immediately,' Haldar added.

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