7 held for running factory producing fake remdesivir
A BPharm graduate and a BCom graduate, both from Uttarakhand’s Haridwar, were among seven arrested on Friday for running a factory producing fake remdesivir injections, which were widely sold in Delhi and other states for huge profits, Delhi Police’s crime branch said.
Vatan Kumar Saini (32), who holds BPharm and MBA degrees, and Aditya Gautam (33), a BCom graduate, told the police that they have sold more than 2,000 fake remdesivir vials in the black market through their agents in the past few weeks. The police said a 40-year-old woman events manager based in Delhi, who herself recently recovered from Covid-19, was helping them sell the fake vials in the national capital.
Remdesivir injections are in huge demand across India, as Covid-19 infections surge. WHO has said there is no evidence it reduces mortality or obviates the need for ventilation in hospitalised people, but it has been found by some studies to help those in early stages of the infection who need supplemental oxygen.
Delhi Police’s ongoing investigation into those arrested recently for trying to sell remdesivir injections in the black market helped them trace the vials to the manufacturing unit in Uttarakhand, the crime branch said.
The crime branch said on Thursday that they carried out searches in the manufacturing facility in Uttarakhand’s Kotdwar and a trading company in Haridwar, both run by Gautam and Saini. The two were allegedly passing off injections of antibiotic azithromycin as the antiviral drug remdesivir, as the packaging of both drugs are similar. The men would replace the labels on the antibiotic vials with fake ones that they printed out, said deputy commissioner of police (crime) Monika Bhardwaj.
DCP Bhardwaj said 198 vials of the fake remdesivir, one packing machine, one barcoding machine, 3,000 empty vials and packing materials of azithromycin, an antibiotic used in the treatment of a number of bacterial infections, were seized from the factory.
Thee duo was selling one remdesivir vial for around ₹6,000 to ₹10,000 to their agents, who further sold it to needy customers for prices ranging between ₹25,000 and ₹40,000. The injection is available for a price between ₹900 and 3,500, but shortages have resulted in a thriving black market. Many states have channelised sales of remdesivir .
Delhi has been hit by a severe shortage of drugs such as remdesivir, faviprarir and ivermectin, a scarcity that has been exacerbated by hoarders and black marketeers who are selling them at rates 10-15 times their retail value. For instance, HT reported earlier that a dealer in north Delhi offered to sell a customer a vial of remdesivir for ₹25,000, as against an MRP ranging from ₹899 and ₹3,500.
DCP Bhardwaj said police have initiated the procedure to seal Gautam’s medicine manufacturing company, “Nectar Herbs and Drugs” in Kotdwar.
According to the police, the first lead about the interstate racket came when the crime branch team on April 23 arrested Mohammad Shoaib (28), and Mohan Kumar Jha (40), with 10 remdesivir vials that they were trying to sell to a decoy customer outside Batra Hospital in south Delhi.
After their arrest, the two told the police that they got the vials from two others, Manish Goyal and Pushkar Chanderkant Pakhale, who were subsequently arrested on April 25 from Delhi’s Yamuna Vihar with 12 more vials of remdesivir.
The duo disclosed that their main supplier was one Sadhna Sharma and she was arrested the following day from Yamuna Vihar itself. A total of 160 vials of fake remdesivir injections were recovered from her, the DCP said.
“Sharma underwent treatment for Covid-19 at a private hospital in Krishna Nagar. Sharma needed remdesivir injections for her treatment but could not get one because of its scarcity. In her efforts to obtain an injection for herself, Sharma came in contact with Saini and joined his illegal trade,” said Bhardwaj.
“Prime facie, it appears that except Sharma, the other four arrested persons did not know that the injections were fake. Sharma told us that the fake injections were coming from Uttarakhand through Saini,” Bharadwaj said.
On April 27, Saini was arrested from his home in Haridwar from where one packing machine, 3,000 empty vials for packing fake remdesivir injections, and packing materials of azithromycin were seized. During his interrogation, Saini pointed to Gautam, who was arrested on April 29 from Roorkee. His company premises in Kotdwar was also searched. The computer on which fake labels were prepared and 16 fake remdesivir injections were recovered, the DCP said.
AIIMS director Randeep Guleria earlier this week asked doctors to exercise caution while prescribing remdesivir to patients and said the drug being used to treat Covid-19 is not a “magic bullet”.