For the first time in decades, the Drug Control Organization mounted a drive against marketing of spurious drugs and medicines in Kashmir last year. Appearing from nowhere the senior officials of the key government outfit in the health department raided premises of several drug stores across Kashmir. We were told the organization has initiated some 'emergency' measures to curb the clandestine trade of spurious and narcotic drugs, which is believed to have assumed menacing proportions particularly in the valley during the past couple of decades. Special teams of the department had fanned across the valley districts to carry out raids over the premises of chemists and druggists and scrutinized their records, taking samples of suspect stocks for laboratory tests. The raids were carried out in Baramulla, Sopore, Bandipore and Kupwara areas picking up samples.
Taking cognizance of reports of touting by drug stores, more so around the premier hospitals, the department warned their owners against such tactics. The new found activism of the Drug Control Organization followed findings that a counterfeit version of an antibiotic was supplied to several government hospitals in Srinagar, jeopardising the lives of many patients.
The scam came to light when the states Drug and Food Control Department discovered that Maximizin- 625, an antibiotic that is administered within hours of surgery, was fake. The antibiotic, which was supplied to hospitals in the Valley last year by Jammu-based distributor Life Line Pharmaco, contained zero milligrams of Amoxicillin instead of 500 milligrams as claimed by the company.
In the past five years, 7,875 patients have died within 48 hours of being admitted at the Sher-i- Kashmir Institute of Medical Sciences (SKIMS), the only super-speciality hospital in Jammu & Kashmir. If 2013 exposé is to be believed, most of them could be victims of spurious drugs supplied by the state governments health department.
Despite the authorities warning drug stores against sale of medicines without proper medical prescription, there are reports that sale continues over the counters unabated. Addiction to self-medicated sedatives in valley had witnessed a sharp rise over recent times and sale of tranquillizers, sedatives, anti-depressants and narcotic pain-killers remains at its peak, primarily because of 'increased self-medication' or reckless prescriptions by medical practitioners. In numerous cases, it has culminated into growing suicidal tendencies among the valley youth, which is traced to the prevailing conditions, failure in examinations, rampant unemployment and various other factors, including inability to withstand the pulls and pressures of the contemporary life. The sale of 'branded' drugs in Kashmir is believed to be perhaps the highest in India which may be the chief reason behind mushrooming of drug stores in the valley.
That no further action was taken in the scam 'unearthed' last year and case shelved explains the lack of seriousness on the part of the Drug Control Organization to prevent sale of spurious drugs and poisonous addictives. In fact, the moribund Organization is largely responsible for the grim scenario obtaining at present. Unless the department itself had been drugged into inaction its handsomely paid officials should have been visible in the market to prevent the sale of spurious medicines. Given their conspicuous absence over decades past, the last years drive was aptly described as 'guest appearance' by an analyst in this newspaper.
The department acts as do the most outfits of the government entrusted with law enforcement in markets, like the Consumer Affairs and Public Distribution, whose officials are seen going round a few days ahead of various festivals and vanish from the scene soon after. No less alarming is the societal apathy that tends to embolden the unscrupulous traders to trifle with the people's lives with impunity. It is time the government initiated honest and serious measures to prevent the sale of fake and harmful drugs before it is too late.
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