As substandard copies of essential, life-saving medicines are being supplied to markets across the country, pharmacists and pharmaceutical industry experts have urged the Drug Regulatory Authority of Pakistan (DRAP) to devise an effective mechanism to ensure the availability of genuine drugs to people, especially in the rural areas.
Interviews with renowned pharmacists, officials and pharmaceutical industry representatives revealed that up to five per cent of the medicines, especially essential and expensive ones, being sold at medicine markets, pharmacies and medical stores might be spurious or counterfeit, which could prove fatal for patients instead of curing or treating them.
“A factory in the outskirts of Peshawar was raided recently, where empty vials of an important anaesthesia medicine, isoflurane, were being filled with chloroform,” Adnan Rizvi, chief of Sindh’s Drug Testing Laboratory, said. “The authorities earlier found copies of life-saving
antibiotics, including meropenem, which is used to treat drug-resistant typhoid and other hard to treat infections. In these circumstances, regulatory authorities need to devise an effective mechanism to ensure the provision of genuine, authentic medicines to people.”
Several other experts and officials conceded that spurious and counterfeit medicines are being sold at small, unlicensed medical stores in the suburban and rural areas of the country. They pointed out that a majority of the people are uneducated and unaware of the scams. They advised people to choose to buy medicines from large, reputable pharmacies where pharmacists are also available to assist them.
Abdur Rahim Abbasi, a former drug inspector with a vast experience of serving in the entire province, said that around five per cent of the medicines in markets might be spurious or counterfeit, adding that mostly essential and life-saving medicines of reputed companies have been found to be spurious.
“Over 80 per cent of the medicines in rural and suburban areas are sold without prescription. Chances of selling spurious, counterfeit medicines in these areas are very high because most of the buyers are usually uneducated and can’t differentiate between genuine and counterfeit drugs.”
Abbasi advised people to purchase the medicines they require only from large medical stores and community pharmacies that usually buy medicines directly from the manufacturers.
Umaima Muzzamil, a pharmacist and general manager of the Ehad Medical Stores in Karachi, said that instead of visiting pharmacies near clinics and hospitals, people should approach large pharmacies that directly buy medicines from the manufacturers and keep them in temperature-controlled environments to maintain their efficacy.
“Community pharmacies like the Ehad Medical Stores and others ensure that patients get authentic, genuine medicines. Pharmacists are available round the clock at our pharmacies to ensure that patients get the right medicine for the treatment of their health condition,” she said.
“We need such pharmacies in the entire Pakistan so that people can be cured instead of losing their lives by consuming spurious and counterfeit medicines.”
Spurious medicines are drugs that become hazardous or ineffective “unintentionally” during the manufacturing process, while counterfeit ones are pharmaceutical products made with criminal intention, often containing substandard raw material or no pharmaceutical ingredient at all, pharmaceutical industry expert Ayaz Kiani explained.
“Sometimes criminal elements use medicines made for treating animals to produce counterfeit medicines for treating human ailments. In some instances, industrial-grade pharmaceutical ingredients that are cheap and carry hazardous impurities are used to make copies of known brands of antibiotics and other essential drugs, which can prove lethal for patients.”
In these circumstances, it is advisable for the people to visit pharmacies where pharmacists are available, the storage conditions are in accordance with the law and customers are issued proper printed bills or cash memo, he stressed.
Samad Budhani, a representative of the Pakistan Chemists & Druggists Association, said that most of the counterfeit medicines are sold at unlicensed medical stores in the rural areas. He advised people to buy medicines from large, reputable pharmacies that are now functioning in every major and minor city.
‘Less than 1pc’
A DRAP official claimed while talking to The News that “less than one per cent of the medicines are spurious or counterfeit in Pakistan. Whenever we receive information regarding such products’ availability anywhere in the country, we use full force to track the culprits involved in manufacturing them”.
The official said that the national task force for eradicating spurious and counterfeit medicines constantly takes action against antisocial elements, and during the past few months it has shut down dozens of illegal drug manufacturing businesses and arrested the culprits involved in the heinous crime.