Counterfeiting threatens the very essence of what life-saving drugs stand for. Drug control authorities woke up to the fact last month when they swooped down on a massive haul of fake drugs meant to treat hypertension and cardiovascular diseases. Two agencies booked for the supply of the drugs worth over `50 lakh were found to have sourced the medicines from Karnataka and Bihar. Till now, there has been minimal trace of where these spurious drugs came from, though several teams have been deployed to track the source down.
This is not happening for the first time, though. During the Covid-19 pandemic, when the antiviral drug Favipiravir was in huge demand, enforcement agencies found fake drugs doing the rounds. Counterfeiting is a huge menace in India, but the volume of fakery in the drug industry is alarming. Odisha has a reason to worry because of its minuscule drug manufacturing industry. For a population of 4.5 crore, it has just 60-odd licensed drug manufacturers. Most of them are in the MSME sector, producing generic drugs and parenterals. This means the state has to depend on outside sources, exposing it to the vagaries of counterfeiting. So complex is the drug manufacturing and supply chain that detection of substandard and falsified drugs is a tedious task. Add to it the weak testing facilities and enforcement network.
However, it is only symptomatic of the malaise that grips India, the world’s pharmacy hub. And more the crises, the merrier. A white paper by the Authentication Solution Providers’ Association (ASPA) suggests that counterfeiting of Covid-19 products was detected in 23 out of 29 states and seven union territories. Besides, substandard and falsified medical products reported a 47% jump in 2021 over the previous year. Taking advantage of medicine scarcity, poor regulations, and legal framework, manufacturers of spurious drugs bleed the exchequer and pose a severe threat to public health in India.
The Centre has introduced a norm which makes it mandatory to put QR codes on all active pharmaceutical ingredients to trace and track—this will come into force from next year. It’s a welcome step, but using technology—some experts suggest using the blockchain technique to secure the manufacturing network—can strengthen the ecosystem. Also, robust enforcement, testing facilities across the states and a national digital database of every licensed manufacturer would go a long way in curbing the country’s dangerous trend of counterfeiting medical products.