Unsafe Drugs are still Sold 'over the Counter'
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16 June 2010
By Pritha Chatterjee
OME drugs with proven side effects, banned in several developed nations, continue to be sold ‘over the counter’ at several chemists in the city.
Few are aware of the side effects of these drugs and some chemists, when asked, said they saw no harm in selling a few tablets once a while over the counter, as the same medicines were frequently prescribed by doctors.
Earlier this year, the Central Drug Standards Control Organization (CDSO) had drawn flak, when several independent reports established that drugs banned in developed countries for their adverse effects were still allowed to be sold in India. The apex institution then brought out a notice banning the sale of some drugs.
Dr R Ramakrishna, Deputy Drugs Controller, CDSO, West Zone, said,“Decisions pertaining to safety of prescription drugs are taken by the CDSO at the central level. But we have largely succeed in implementing their guidelines in Mumbai.” But it was found that at least four stores in South Mumbai alone sold Nimesulide, a drug from the Non Steroidal Anti–Inflammatory Drug category (NSAID), with established side effects, without a doctor’s prescription.
Archana Ghanekar, a housewife said she buys it often from chemists around Kemp’s Corner,“It is a com mon painkiller and works wonders for my migraine. I had no idea it had side effects,” she said. The drug can cause gastric erosion, disrupt kidney function, and initiate intestinal bleeding, which may even lead to death; when used over a long period.
Experts say the biggest challenge is to control ‘over the counter’ sale.
According to Dr P Sanyal, a private practitioner,“The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in USA has banned drugs according to usage patterns. For instance, aspirin has gastrointestinal and renal side effects, so its use as a painkiller is prohibited. But heart patients still have to take the drug to prevent blood clotting.” But people continue to take aspirin to relieve pain.
Doctors blame chemists for selling drugs indiscriminately, without demanding prescriptions from the customer.
Sam Thomas, a chemist near Churchgate station said he receives“three prescriptions a week for Nimesulide on an average” and thus considers it safe to sell“a tablet or two without prescription”.
Many chemists claimed they have customers coming in with prescriptions for Cox–2 inhibitor drugs, a category of painkillers banned by the CDSO in India. Thomas said,“When doctors think they are safe, why should we incur losses by not stocking drugs?” He added he had been turning down“about 2–3 customers a fortnight” since last year, when he stopped selling these drugs.