Fake drug trade thrives in UP, U’khand

Medicine trade has an an­nual turnover of ₹17,000 cr, and 1.5% of this could be from fake drugs, say of­fi­cials

Hindustan Times (Lucknow) - - Lucknow - Gau­rav Sai­gal gau­rav.sai­[email protected]

LUCKNOW:: 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 strip­pack­ing ma­chine, a blis­ter pack­ing ma­chine, small con­sumer goods and food items. Raw ma­te­rial for mak­ing tablets was also seized.

The Rs 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.

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