P.T. Jyothi Datta

Mumbai, Feb. 2

PATIENTS consuming the anti-epileptic drug Gardenal for several years are now being faced with a shortage of the medicine in the market.

"Anti-epilepsy drugs have to be consumed everyday to prevent epileptic fits from coming on," says an official with the drug company Nicholas Piramal who is already receiving letters from patients and doctors asking for supply of the medicine, following the shortage in the market.

Gardenal, Valium, Garoin (also for epilepsy), Rivotril (an anxiety drug) etc. are just few of the estimated Rs 1,000 crore basket of psychotropic and central nervous system (CNS) drugs that are hit by the fear-psychosis spreading among chemists and medicine retailers across the country.

In a self-imposed freeze effective from Tuesday, wholesalers and retailers have stopped purchasing this segment of drugs from companies - for fear of raids from the Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB).

And the shortage of drugs will get more acute across the country, as the existing socks of the medicine dry-up, says Mr J.S. Shinde, General Secretary of the All India Organisation of Chemists and Druggists (AIOCD).

According to him, chemists and medicine retailers are witnessing increased raids by the NCB to prevent the abuse of medicines that come under the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act (NDPS), 1985. Chemists are expected to maintain records on the purchase of these drugs from the companies and it's subsequent sale to patients for a period of two-years. And the absence of this can throw them behind bars without bail, says Mr Shinde.

Repeated efforts by the AIOCD to meet the Union Health Minister have not fructified, he said and the organisation is now set to intensify its stir. The AIOCD wants this segment of drugs to be brought only under the Drugs and Cosmetics Act, away from the NDPS Act.

The abuse of these drugs as intoxicants can be fixed through other, less harassing methods, the AIOCD official feels.

Caught in this stalemate are companies such as Torrent, Cipla, Ranbaxy, Sun Pharma, Nicholas Piramal, Wockhardt, Intas, Zydus, Ajanta Pharma, Novartis... .the list goes on.

Ranbaxy for instance markets Pentazocine, a drug used as a post-operative in surgeries such as cancer. It also markets Diazepam, or anti-depressant better known as Calmpose.

While sales from these drugs are small, a Ranbaxy spokesperson said "sales have come to a virtual halt for these products," as a result of the AIOCD call.

Wockhardt too admitted to "some confusion" in the market, with retailers being reluctant to stock it's product dextropropoxyphene or the Proxyvon range of medicines.

And as the stalemate remains to be sorted out by the Government, consumers are already taking the brunt of the dead-lock.

(This article was published in the Business Line print edition dated February 3, 2005)
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