With zero price regulation, private chemists fleecing patients

With zero price regulation, private chemists fleecing patients
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Injection wholesale price Rs 650, sold in market for Rs 4500

SRINAGAR: Hundreds of private chemist shops and pharma distributors in Jammu and Kashmir are claiming huge margins on drugs in the absence of price control by the Drug Department.
Official sources told Kashmir Reader that doctors in government and private hospitals are prescribing drugs that are not under price control in order to claim freebies from retailers and distributors and share in their profits. The lack of regulation also allows private chemists to overcharge patients for medicines otherwise available at a low cost.
“Doctors at government hospitals usually prescribe branded drugs that come under the non-scheduled category and have no cap on their pricing by the Drug Department and the National Pharmaceutical Pricing Authority (NPPA). This gives chemists a free hand to fleece patients,” said an official at Government Medical College Srinagar.
“There is a huge gap between wholesale and retail rates of some commonly used drugs. Some unscheduled drugs are even sold at a profit margin of 300 percent,” he said.
An official in the Drug Department told Kashmir Reader that leading brands of some of the drugs used in cancer treatment are sold for at prices higher than generic medicines.
“The average price on leading brands of cancer treatment drugs, such as Geftinate Glivec and Alecensa 150 mg, is 10 to 20 times costlier than the wholesale item,” he said.
“Alecensa, for example, given to Anaplastic Lymphoma Kinase (ALK)-positive patients of metastatic non-small cell lung cancer whose condition is advanced or who are intolerant to crizotinib. The drug is sold at an MRP of Rs 35,000, while its wholesale price is not more than Rs 1800,” the official said.
For dialysis patients, medicines of leading brands are also sold at a profit margin between 50 to 80 percent, as per the officials in the Drug and Food Control Organisation. They said the price range of these drugs is 100 percent more costly than the MRP of generic drugs in Jan Aushadhi stores.
Vintor, an injection given to renal disease patients, is available at a wholesale price of Rs 650 per vial. However, the same medicine is sold at retail shops at a cost per vial of Rs 3000 to 4500.
Sources told Kashmir Reader that the same injection is purchased at a cost of Rs 450 through Government Medical College Srinagar while SKIMS gets it for only Rs 150.
“This is criminal on the part of the private chemists who make huge margins off essential and emergency drugs. Some doctors are also supporting this illegal trade in flourishing as they get huge benefits in the shape of profit shares and freebies,” alleged a government pharmacist at SMHS Hospital.
During a market survey, Kashmir Reader found that chemists earn the highest margin from antibiotics. For example, 10 tablets of antibiotic Cefuroxime Aaxetil (500 mg) are available at Rs 128.86 in Jan Aushadhi stores while it is sold in the market at a price range of Rs 600 to Rs 750.
Similarly, anti-anxiety drug Alprazolam 0.50 mg is available at Rs 2.97 per strip of 10 tablets but is sold in the market for Rs 30-50.
Most of the drugs used are sold by the private hospitals from their in-house pharmacies, which points to the fact that the major beneficiaries of profits by way of inflated margins have been private chemists, hospitals and doctors rather than the manufacturers.
Drug Controller Lotika Khajuria said the department is trying to implement the NPPA price regulations. However, she said, the NPPA has no direct intervention in J&K.
“There is no representative of NPPA in J&K. We are the implementing agency. We try to issue notices and rate lists like we did recently about nearly 463 anti-cancer drugs,” she said.
When asked why private chemist shops are earning huge margins on drugs, the Controller said she wouldn’t be able to answer this due to her busy schedule.
“Please send me a specific complaint, so that I can respond accordingly,” she said.