Antibiotic medicines will soon be colour-coded to avoid overuse and misuse, which create drug-resistant superbugs that cannot be destroyed using the current crop of medicine.
Antibiotics will be colour-coded on the basis of toxicity, efficacy, rarity, habit-forming nature etc under the newly-drafted Antibiotic Resistance Policy, which is expected to be rolled out in a couple of months. In all, 536 antibiotics will labelled as Shedule-H1 drugs under the law.
Over-the-counter sale of prescription antibiotics, no standard treatment protocol for antibiotics prescription and counterfeit medicines are some issues addressed in the policy. "We will ensure a set protocol is followed every where. There should be a deterrent factor for the violators, but I am not in a position to comment on the exact nature of it," said Dr VM Katoch, director-general, Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR).
"You can get prescription drugs over-the-counter in many places and these have the potential of being over-used or misused, resulting in long-term side-effects and drug-resistant organisms. The new policy will help check the loopholes responsible for their misuse," said Dr Nata Menabde, World Health Organisation representative to India.
The WHO has provided technical assistance to the government in formulating the policy.
Popping antibiotics indiscriminately results in the bacteria becoming resistant to the first-line of antibiotics, forcing doctors to prescribe stronger, more toxic and more expensive drugs to treat the disease. The drugs needed to treat multidrug-resistant tuberculosis, for example, are 100 times more expensive than standard drugs.
New Delhi metallo-beta-lactamase (NDM-1), for example, which shot to fame last year with a study in The Lancet tracing its origin to the subcontinent, is a newly identified enzyme conveying bacterial resistance to all standard intravenous antibiotics used to treat severe infections.
Contrary to popular belief, the most abused antibiotics are given to animals. "Animals are given drugs in massive doses, not just for treatment, but as a preventive measure also. It's a cheap way of saving animals from falling sick," said Dr Menabde.