Newsbrief: India Narcs Set Off Prescription Drug Panic 2/4/05

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Beginning Tuesday pharmaceutical drug wholesalers and retailers in India have stopped taking shipments of a wide variety of prescription drugs regulated under the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act (NDPS), according to reports in Hindu Business and the India Times. Retailers organized in the All India Organization of Chemists and Druggists (AIOCD) say they will quit selling the drugs to patients starting February 10. The move is, as Hindu Business put it, the result of "the fear-psychosis spreading among chemists and medicine retailers across the country" in the wake of raids on pharmacists by the Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB).

A reinvigorated NCB is making life miserable for drug wholesalers and retailers, complained AIOCD secretary general JS Shinde. NCB narcs are raiding and arresting chemists and pharmacists for minor record-keeping violations, and the Indian government has failed to respond to repeated requests to discuss the matter, he said. While the AIOCD recognizes the danger of abuse of the drugs in question, Shinde said the government must find a better way than jailing pharmacists and wholesalers.

Drugs affected include anti-depressants, anti-psychotics, and anti-epileptics, as well as sedatives such as Valium and narcotic pain relievers and total more than 400 formulations. The AIOCD would like regulation of the drugs shifted from the illicit drug-oriented NDPS to the Drugs and Cosmetics Act, which regulates prescription and non-prescription medicines.

The loudly announced imminent freeze on supplying prescriptions for the drugs in question may well be a maneuver by the industry to pressure the government, but the threat of no drugs is causing great anxiety both among those who use them and those who manufacture them (thus the stories in the Indian business press). Shortages are already developing, and people who are used to their Valium are feeling anxious.

Will the Indian government blink? Tune in next week.

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Issue #373 -- 2/4/05

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