No we do not have, as yet. At this stage, the magnitude of the problem is anybody’s guess. Earlier a study sponsored by the World Health Organization (WHO) and conducted by SEARPharm reported that only 0.3% drugs were spurious and 3% of drugs were counterfeits.
Government of India has initiated the largest study in the world to quantify the problem:
To scientifically assess the magnitude of the problem in terms of real size of counterfeit drugs market in India , the Drugs Controller General of India (DCGI) India’s, for the first time ever, has initiated one of the largest studies in the world, as reported by the Times of India May 14, 2008.
The study has already identified 61 popular drug brands from nine therapeutic categories for testing 24000 samples. These include drugs prescribed for tuberculosis, malaria, allergic disorders, diabetes cardiovascular conditions, vitamins etc. This study is expected to cost 50 million rupees or about U.S$1.0 million and is expected to be published, soon.
Making provisions for stricter penalties through amendment of the Drugs and Cosmetics Act, 1940:
To bring into effect stricter penalties for those involved in counterfeit drugs, the process of amendment of the Drugs and Cosmetics Act, 1940 was proposed by the Ministry of Health in October, 2007. These amendments are expected to make the drug-related offences, cognisable and non-bailable.
The latest amendment to the Drugs and Cosmetics Act, 1940 became a law in 2008. The punishment for selling or distributing spurious drugs, which are likely to cause death and grievous hurt to the patients, is now imprisonment for a term not less than 10 years and fine not less than Rs 10 lakh or three times the value of drugs confiscated, whichever is more.
The Minister of Health of India announced in November 2008, that with this amendment the Government of India will “go all out to do away with spurious drugs.”
India working closely with WHO Anti-counterfeiting Taskforce:
India being a part of ‘International Medical Products Anti-Counterfeiting Taskforce’ (IMPACT), established under WHO in 2006, decided to work together to combat the growing menace of counterfeit medicines.
The Drugs Controller General of India (DCGI) was reported to have several discussions with the convenor of the IMPACT to effectively address the issue of such serious threats to the patients at large. Many people believe that China and India are the main source of counterfeit drugs in the world.
Apprehensions of the Indian Pharmaceutical Industry with new Amendments in the Law:
Indian Pharmaceutical Industry although welcomed the stricter punitive provisions in the law, expressed its apprehensions due to lack of clear demarcation between the definitions of spurious drugs and those which can lose their original potency because of improper transportation and storage.
If the law-enforcing authorities pick up such medicines from retail outlets, those can easily get categorised as spurious medicines under Section 17A and 17B of the Drugs and Cosmetics Act, 1940. Consequently the concerned manufacturers could be put behind bars with, presumably, no fault at their end.
While stringent punishment is essential for those involved in such heinous crime, the Government should take enough measures to ensure that genuine drug manufacturers are not harassed by the law enforcing authorities, as the courts will have no judicial discretion to award less than minimum punishment, as prescribed under this Act.
Need for clear guidelines for implementation of the amended ACT:
To allay the major apprehension of the industry regarding possible misuse of some provisions of the Act, the Ministry of Health is expected to work out and quickly announce clear guidelines for implementation of the act by the law enforcement agencies in different parts of India.
Will this amendment help to win the fight against counterfeit drugs?
Only time will be able to give that answer. However, by amending the Act, the Government of India has demonstrated its resolve to address the threat of counterfeit drugs with iron hand. Through enunciation of above guidelines, all concerned are expected to be taken on board to effectively curb, if not totally eliminate this growing menace, for the sake of humanity.
By Tapan Ray
Disclaimer: The views/opinions expressed in this article are entirely my own, written in my individual and personal capacity. I do not represent any other person or organization for this opinion.