Phony Pills Looks Like Original

Phony Pills Looks Like Original

NEW DELHI: When private investigator Pankaj Dutt and police raided a place run by a fake drug syndicate in Patna, a city in eastern India, in July, he and his team found 84 boxes of a fake fertility drug, wrappers, cartons, chemicals and unlabelled ampoules.

The syndicate was making the drugs, placing them in boxes Indistinguishable from the original, and selling them at less than half the price. What was impressive was how these packages looked just like the real thing.

'A carton was offered for 900 rupees (S $26) when the retail price (for the original) was 3,000 rupees. We raided four places and the police arrested seven people, including a printer and a stockist,' said Mr Dutt.

India is well known for being the world's largest producer of generic drugs which are sold at competitive rates in Africa and Latin America. But the rise of a fake drug trade is becoming a cause of worry, as it is seen to be tarnishing the country's image.

It could also hurt India's pharmaceuticals industry, which exports US $10 billion (S $13 billion) worth of affordable medicines to countries around the world.

To compound matters, fake 'Made in India' drugs have also surfaced recently. Nigeria last year seized a large consignment of fake anti-malarial generic drugs purportedly made here, but which turned out to have been produced in China.

At Mr Dutt's workplace, bottles of fake cough syrup and packets of antibiotics, sedatives, painkillers and vitamins all seized in previous raids litter the shelves. The medicines are mostly copies of popular brands, though in some cases, the names are completely made up.
'The packaging is so good that a normal person cannot make out that these are fakes said Mr Suresh Sati, the head of the detective agency, who has spent the last three decades probing the fake drug trade.

Estimates of India's fake drugs trade vary widely. The government says 0.4 per cent of all drugs made here are fake, but unofficial estimates put the figure at between 10 and 30 per cent. A recent report by Liberty Institute, a Delhi-based public policy think-tank, noted that 12 per cent of drugs bought from wholesale traders were sub-standard. Some of the spurious drugs contained chalk or talcum powder mixed with a pain reliever, it found. And 92 per cent of pharmacists surveyed said they had been offered sub-standard or fake drugs for lower prices.
There is an increase in the sophistication with which fake drugs are being packaged. Even holograms are being copied,' said Mr Barun Mitra at the think-tank. Fake drug makers have also shown much creativity in their business.

Some have repackaged expired drugs and sold them, while others have even produced fake physician samples. Aware of the growing problem, the government has tried to break the trade. In December last year, the Health Ministry launched a whistle-blower scheme that offered 2.5 million rupees for information that would help crack the trade. It has drawn more than 20 people so far.

Laws have also been tightened. The penalty for those who peddle and manufacture fake drugs now ranges from a minimum 10-year jail term to a death sentence. Last year, 147 people were arrested in fake drug cases. But some say this is not enough. The authorities say they are doing all they can. 'The government is very vigilant and we are taking regular action,' said Mr Ravi Kant, assistant drug controller of Delhi. Mr Sati says that while the fake drug trade in India has still not got out of hand, the government needs to make it a higher priority for its enforcement agencies. He said: 'I sometimes feel that this is worse than murder. In this case, you don't even know who the murderer is.'