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Times of India
14 May 2008
New Delhi, India

World’s largest survey on fake drugs to be conducted
A paracetamol tablet that fails to bring the fever down or, more seriously, a capsule for a heart condition that has no curative effect – imagine putting your faith in a medicine that doesn’t cure you, or worse, actually harms your body. That could be a growing reality in India, with experts in the Indian pharma industry fearing that one in five drugs sold in the country is fake.

Assocham estimates that the lethal market is growing at 25% annually. In fact, the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development’s latest figures say 75% of fake drugs supplied the world over have their origins in India.

These telling figures have now made the drug controller general’s office decide to undertake the world’s largest–ever study to investigate the actual size of this menacing market.

Expected to start soon, the INR 50–lakh study, to be spearheaded by drug controller general of India, Surinder Singh, and expected to take six months’ time, will see drug inspectors pose as patients and pick up 31,000 drug samples.

The study has already identified 61 popular drug brands from nine therapeutic categories that will be tested. They include anti–tuberculosis medications, anti–allergics, drugs to counter diabetes and cardiovascular diseases, anti–infective steroids, anti–malarials, NSAIDs, antihistaminic and multi–vitamin preparations.

Lending urgency to the study is a recent research article in the Lancet journal, which says that in developing countries like India, 10–30% of medicines is feared to be counterfeit. The health ministry’s estimates are more conservative: It says 5% of drugs in India are counterfeit while 0.3% are spurious.

Health secretary Naresh Dayal said, “The counterfeit drug market in India, which we believe is still not that large, has the potential to become extremely threatening. We need to know its actual size in order to combat it”.

Singh told TOI, for the study, the country has been divided into five stratums, as instructed by the Indian Statistical Institute, Hyderabad.

According to drug expert, C.M. Gulati, the estimates made about India’s counterfeit drug market is highly exaggerated. He said, “Under US law, any drug which is not authorized is considered counterfeit. There is no evidence that 30% of Indian drugs are counterfeit, as sometimes claimed. The drugs in India are so cheap that the profit margin is paltry. At present, in 90% cases, it’s as expensive to make spurious drugs as to make real drugs. India is the only country where tableting, packaging and carton costs are more than the cost of the actual active medicine”.