Fake drug trade thrives in UP, parts of Uttarakhand
Think twice before you pop that pill. It may contain starch and talcum powder.
The shocking disclosure followed seizure of fake medicines worth about ₹6 crore after raids on several locations in Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand recently, officials said.
In UP, the medicine trade has an annual turnover of ₹17,000 crore and officials say 1.5% of this could be from fake drugs.
More than this number, the secrecy with which the syndicate operated is startling. Gang members had no knowledge about the identity of the others involved in the chain, officials said.
They were all linked by Gaurav Tyagi, the mastermind. The gang supplied fake medicines to various districts in Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and the Delhi border.
A tip off of about broad spectrum antibiotics and several other medicines being sold at a huge discount blew the lid off the racket.
A chemist in Amroha (the first link in the illegal trade) accepted the discount was huge and claimed he did not know who the supplier was as he placed his orders on telephone.
“A motorcyclewala (man on a motorcycle) comes to deliver these tablets when I make a phone call. Where he comes from is not known,” the chemist told officials.
AK Jain, drug license and controlling authority UP, said, “Studies indicate the spurious drug market accounts for 1.5% of the total medicine trade. But this is the first-of-its kind operation where we busted a fake drug manufacturing unit after a tip off about tablets being sold alarmingly cheap.”
A report on the fake medicines racket was finalised by FSDA officials in the third week of September giving details of the entire network, Jain said.
After the tip-off, FSDA officials zeroed in on a shop in Amroha and purchased medicines from the store at very low prices.
“How could the manufacturer offer a discount of 20% or 30%? We caught the medical store owner and inquired about the supplier,” said Jain.
The official’s surprise was not without reason. Generally, medicine store owners offer a discount of 5% to 10%. The margin of profit is 16% in the retail medicine trade and some companies allow a maximum of 20% profit. Then, how could anyone offer a discount of 30%, the officials wondered.
It took six weeks for the officials to track down the suspects. The first arrest was made in Amroha in western Uttar Pradesh. Others were nabbed from different localities in Haridwar (Uttarakhand).
A joint operation by UP and Uttarakhand officials revealed fake drugs were manufactured under a syndicate spread across several districts and states.
“The person (who came on motorcycle) was just a delivery man. He gave us the leads about one Ravi Kant in Haridwar. We conducted a joint raid with officials of Uttarakhand in Sainik Colony under the Gangnahar police area in Roorkee and caught Ravi Kant,” said Jain.
The house in which Ravi Kant stayed had 18 printed cartons, which were used to pack medicines. Packed and unpacked medicine strips and raw material were recovered. The companies, the names of which were printed on cartons and strips, were also informed about the seizure. In all, 18 medicines were recovered. When tested by the FSDA, they all were found fake.
Ravi Kant was just the second lead in the nexus. When questioned, he named Arun as his partner. A team was then sent to look out for Arun.
Ravi Kant also identified another house at Shiv Puram, in Roorkee. Here, the cache of fake drugs was even bigger. As the team entered the house, a packaging machine, packed strips, and unpacked strips were recovered, indicating it was a manufacturing unit for fake medicines. The man arrested here was identified as Rajendra Singh, said FSDA officials.
A strip-packing machine, printing blocks used on strips and over 3,6000 packed strips of different tablets were seized here. Apart from the strips, 240 kilogram of unpacked tablets and 39 sacks of raw material were also recovered.
Officials seized fake medicine worth ₹3 crore (market price as per the strips printed) from the fake unit in Uttar Pradesh and an equal amount in Uttarakhand.
“The fake strips appeared original at first sight. Till now, we had caught units using less percentage of prescribed ingredients, poor packaging or substitutes, but this was a fake unit having no licence nor was it running in a proper place,” said Jain, who supervised the operation.
Who delivered the raw tablets? Rajendra Singh named one Vipin of Salempura. At Vipin’s place, the team found yet another strip-packing machine, a blister packing machine, small consumer goods and food items. Raw material for making tablets was also seized.
The ₹6 crore fake drug haul could just be the tip of the iceberg, officials say.
“One person knew only the next one in the chain but didn’t know all the rest. We were tracking one person after the other,” said Jain, adding: “This is the first time such a modus operandi has been exposed in the fake drug trade.”
The FSDA team is yet to arrest the alleged mastermind who had linked the entire business at different places in Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand. “His name cropped up while we were conducting raids in Uttarakhand. He is yet to be nabbed,” said Jain.
Starch paste, talcum powder, and calcium phosphate were used to make tablets in different shapes and sizes, said Rajendra Singh after his arrest, adding colour was added to them if required to match with the original medicine.
“Starch paste, talcum powder, and calcium phosphate are known to cause health problems. Calcium can cause stone formation in the kidneys and gall bladder. Sulphate ion causes gastric irritation in the stomach,” said prof Sanjay Khatri, of the department of pharmacology at the King George’s Medical University, Lucknow.
Talcum powder could cause gastro-entestinal cancer, he said. “Inner lining of the cells changes with even nano doses. Tablets have doses in milligrams. If taken for long, they can create major health problems,” said Khatri.