Pharmaceutical counterfeiting: Uttar Pradesh being used as transit point for spurious drugs
Counterfeit or misbranded drugs worth ₹67.60 crore seized from across Uttar Pradesh in last three years, according to FSDA data
If your prescribed pills aren’t working, then there’s a good chance that the medicines may be counterfeit—a concern that the pharma industry has been grappling with for a while now.
In Uttar Pradesh, enforcement agencies face another major problem: stopping manufacturers of counterfeit drugs in the neighbouring states from using U.P. as a transit point to ship their consignments to other states.
Sample this. Of the 24 samples from a wide range of medicines seized during a raid in Varanasi, 21 failed their laboratory tests conducted in the last week of April. The total seizure was worth ₹7.5 crore. Lab reports of the stock from another seizure worth ₹25 lakh are awaited.
“The medicines (seized in Varanasi) were brought to Uttar Pradesh from Himanchal Pradesh and Uttarakhand. Similarly, other states, too, received the same stock. A few consignments were sent to Odisha’s Bargarh and Jharsuguda. The accused, who were arrested, said they used their drug licence to transport medicines in and out of U.P,” said AK Bansal, drug inspector in Varanasi.
“Many pharma companies initially prefer Uttarakhand to set up their manufacturing units due to the subsidy given by the local government. As the subsidy gets over, they move to other states abandoning their machinery, which are used to make counterfeit drugs. Their makers then use U.P. as a transit point,” said Bansal.
From using multiple-billing cycles, forming fake companies to offering alarming discounts to patients, the counterfeiters resort to several illegal tactics to ensure that their fake drugs reach market.
The increase in seizures and arrests made in connection with pharmaceutical counterfeiting corroborates the above statement.
Over the past three years, spurious/counterfeit/misbranded drugs worth ₹67.60 crore have been seized from across the state, according to the data provided by the Food Safety and Drug Administration (FSDA) of Uttar Pradesh.
“At times, we’ve to track up to five different bills routed through different cities for just one stock of counterfeit medicines. This practice (of multiple billings for one stock of medicine) gives the criminals some time to either remove or sell off their entire stock,” said a team member who investigated the Varanasi bust.
“The monthly trade from the sale of medicines in Lucknow is about ₹400 crore. It’d be safe to assume that 10% of the income is from counterfeiting,” said Suresh Kumar, president of Lucknow Chemists’ Association.
Over the past one year, 217 samples have failed their lab tests conducted in the state—43 were found to be misbranded and 112 were deemed spurious. If FSDA data of the past three years is considered, then 472 samples (11%) of the 4,235 samples tested in Uttar Pradesh failed their lab tests.
“Keeping in view the cases, we are now using surveillance and taking help of special units of police to track offenders who may be operating at multiple locations. The idea is to track them and break the nexus,” said SK Chaurasia, drugs controlling and licensing authority, Uttar Pradesh.
“Counterfeit products included medicines for termination of pregnancy, treatment of osteoporosis (a bone disease) among women after menopause, those used for allergic rhinitis (an allergic response causing itchy, watery eyes, sneezing and other similar symptoms) and paracetamol,” said the probe report submitted by the investigating team.
Licences of 3,500 shops caught selling counterfeit medicine were cancelled and two dozen illegal manufacturing units were shut down between 2021 and 2023 in U.P.
The catch in their quick sale is the heavy discount offered to customers at retail counters.
“In a first-of-its-kind case, alarming discounts offered by a few chemists in Amroha led us to the discovery of fake medicines worth ₹6 crore in March 2018. The raids led us to a house where tablets made of starch paste, dry calcium phosphate and talcum powder were recovered. The gang supplied fake medicines to Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and parts of Delhi,” said a former FSDA official who took part in the 2018 operation.
DRUGS IN SHORT SUPPLY TARGETED
Those in the counterfeit business focus on replicating medicines that have high demand but are in short supply. The makers are then supplied with details such as batch numbers and packaging information. The same is copied on to the labels of counterfeit drugs that are floated in the market within a week.
“Companies take at least weeks to flow genuine medicines in the market, but the bogus ones take only a week. This is one method by which counterfeit medicines get sold quickly and consumed without coming into the notice of authorities,” said the president of Lucknow Chemists Association.