Imagine administering a medicine to your near ‘n’ dear one who is down with some ailment, after consulting the best doctor and getting the prescribed medicine, with great confidence you await for cure, only to find that the condition has worsened, and the life of your dear one is in jeopardy. Suppose the medicine you have given is having no effect or even if it has some adverse effect that would lead to complication.

This whole scenario sounds shocking and scary, but this could actually be happening to a lot of people around you. It has been estimated that the fake drug industry operates in a full-fledged manner and shocking figures reveal that about 20 per cent of drugs sold in India are fake or counterfeit.

What is a fake or counterfeit medicine?

The WHO has defined counterfeit medicine as the one which is ‘deliberately and fraudulently mislabeled with respect to identity and/or source. Counterfeiting can apply to both branded and generic products and counterfeit products may include products with the correct ingredients or with the wrong ingredients, without active ingredients, with insufficient active ingredients or with fake packaging.’ Counterfeit medicine was first mentioned as a problem at the WHO Conference of Experts on Rational Drug Use in Nairobi, Kenya in 1985. Since then, the WHO has received several reports from developing and developed countries.

Counterfeit medicine is the brainchild of criminals who want to make huge profits at the expense of innocent people. They not only have devastating consequences, they fail to cure chronic illnesses, create adverse allergic reaction, and endanger life. They also carve out major share of revenues from major Indian pharmaceutical companies who invest hugely for research, development, and marketing and come up with safe drug formulations.

As per Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry of India, it is estimated that, the market for spurious drugs in India is growing by 25 per cent each year. The estimated value of this fake drug industry is around Rs.18, 000 crores.

There had been reports in EU countries that most counterfeit drugs come from India, but one of the seizure of fake drug shipments in Nigeria, had revealed that it had originated from China with ‘Made in India’ labels on them. This is not just the issue with India; countries like China and Indonesia are found to be major arenas for fake and counterfeit drug manufacturers.

The seizure of Chinese made counterfeit was of much relief for the tarnished image of Indian drug industry, but we cannot sideline the fact that there is a full-fledged spurious drug market operating in India. Some television news channels have reiterated the fact that there is a full fledged system that is running parallel to the Indian Pharma Industry, and had managed to get us into the core of the counterfeit drug makers, who mercilessly produced counterfeit for the drugs that were high in demand. The channel was able to uncover the entire process of how counterfeit of fast moving drugs in demand were made, so as to generate more profits. The raw materials used were of shocking composition, from heavy metal paints to compounds like chalk powder, clay and all that was cheaply available to match and mask the real drug.

The figures mentioned by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development states that almost 75 per cent of fake drugs exported to the world over are accrued from India. The emerging picture of the spurious drugs market in India has put the Drug Controller General’s office on alert, which is now planning to undertake the world’s biggest ever study to estimate the size of fake drug industry. It is reported that the Drug Controller General of India would head the study of Indian spurious drug’s market.

If this is the case, the question arises, how safe and effective is the medicine, monitored and stocked by government-run establishments? There isn’t any foolproof mechanism in place that would counter this notion.

Periodic surveys have discovered that in some urban and semi-urban areas more than 30 per cent of the drugs when randomly subjected to analysis were found to be spurious. If such high volumes of fake drugs are on sale, what would be the plight of common man at times of imminent pandemic, when panic strikes among people and demand outstrips the supply of medicines that are in huge demand, Perfect conditions for the deadly drug makers to flood the market with the medicines that doesn’t work on the disease and in spite create havoc.

According to official figures, the spurious drug trade reportedly accounts approximately around 25 per cent of the annual turnover of Rs.85, 000-crores worth Indian pharmaceutical industry – is extremely lucrative yielding profit margins as high as 90 per cent.

Studies estimate that around 700,000 annual deaths occur due to malaria and tuberculosis. And is induced by deadly new strands of drug-resistant disease, endangering millions of people across the globe. Spurious drugs also result in more instant tragedy as in case of over 80 Nigerian children, who were mercilessly killed after they consumed a cough mixture that contained anti-freeze (diethylene glycol) instead of syrup (glycerine), There are many more stories of lost lives.

The Journal of American Medicine (in 2002) has reported that “properly prescribed” legal drugs killed 106,000 Americans each year, due to toxic reactions. That’s more than twenty times the number of Americans killed by illegal drugs, estimated at 5,212. If this is the situation in US where the federal government is so keen and cautious on about safety of its people especially when it comes to healthcare, It would be no exaggeration to believe that the figures in India and other developing third world countries would be having figures that would more than that of the added up figures of developed countries.

How to deal with fake or counterfeit medicine?

Firm action especially at government level must be initiated because for the general public, counterfeits and the real ones may look similar; as the counterfeits are made so perfectly that they look similar. Expect for the chemical composition with which they are made, counterfeits lack active drug ingredients and would be a placebo.

Though some pharma companies have started using holograms and specialized containers to help people differentiate counterfeit, these measures aren’t sufficient and effective to deal with this menace. As it is not just two or three companies that flood the Indian pharma market with various types of medication. It is estimated that there are approximately around twenty three thousand pharmaceutical companies operating in India.

Hence, action and vigil at all fronts must be initiated to curb the makers and dealers of death and stop this industry from growing and nip it in the bud, else a time will come when this would grow beyond proportions and would put lives in jeopardy not only for the people who consume these deadly medications but also of those who live by them.

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