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`India turning capital for counterfeit drugs'

P.T. Jyothi Datta

New Delhi , Aug. 2

"IT has all the trappings of a perfect crime, with the masterminds being technology-savvy and operating a well-oiled machinery," observes Mr Ranjit Shahani, President of the Organisation of Pharmaceutical Producers in India (OPPI), on the modus operandi of spurious drugs manufacturers in the country.

"India is fast becoming the capital for counterfeit drugs, accounting for one-third of the counterfeit drugs produced worldwide," he points out, citing World Health Organisation statistics. "The scourge of counterfeits is particularly bad in Asia. India accounts for 35 per cent of the counterfeits produced, Nigeria produces about 23 per cent and Pakistan accounts for 13.3 per cent. And such statistics give India's fledgling pharma exports a bad image," said Mr Shahani, Vice-Chairman and Managing Director of Novartis India Ltd, speaking in his capacity as President, OPPI - a forum for multinational drug companies in India.

"It is akin to a perfect crime, because fake medicines look like the real thing and evidence is gone because a patient is always presumed to have died from the disease, rather than the drug. And the mastermind is never caught," he says. Contrary to popular belief, the spurious drug manufacturer is not an obscure person operating from the back of beyond. "The trade is profitable and comprises from gangsters with organised networks to grannies that pick empty vials or expired drugs from dumps. Even licensed manufacturers, who operate legal businesses on one front, produce counterfeit drugs, in some cases," he points out.

And technological innovations are not fool-proof, he feels: "They are just half a step away from copying any innovation, with desk-top publishing equipment and other techniques to reproduce the look of the original manufacturer. Production is done at different locations to avoid detection. It is a high margin, low risk business and chemists needs to get suspicious when a margin as high as 80 per cent is given."

Dr Swati Piramal, Chief Scientific Officer of Nicholas Piramal India Ltd (NPIL), feels that "consumers should also be wary when medicines are sold in the loose, at a price different from that on the pack or brands are wrongly spelt. They must buy from reputed stores and insist on receipts." Further, she adds: "Pilfer-proof packaging and holograms are effective in making it more difficult for the spurious manufacturer to copy."

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