Taking forward its massive crackdown on unethical marketing of life-saving essential medicines for COVID-19 treatment like tocilizumab and remdesivir in the country, the Maharashtra Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has so far booked 15 black marketers of COVID-19 drugs for violation of Essential Commodities (EC) Act, Drugs and Cosmetics (D&C) Act and Drug Price Control Order -2013 (DPCO-2013) since July 10, 2020 when it detected first such case in Kashimira of Thane district in Maharashtra.
These drugs have been given emergency use authorization by the Drugs Controller General of India (DCGI) for critically ill or lab suspected COVID-19 patients. State drug regulator conducted four raids over a period of 14 days in joint operations with police as the black marketing had involvement of unscrupulous traders who were selling drugs without any drug license.
These black marketers had links with company officials and marketing representatives of reputed companies. These drug peddlers colluded with company officials to illegally sell drugs at exorbitant prices.
According to a senior FDA official, “Joint raids were conducted in different pockets of Mumbai and Thane in which senior FDA officials posed as decoy customers. Latest case of black marketing of emergency use drugs happened in Ulhasnagar wherein tocilizumab injection was sold at exorbitant price.”
As per FDA intelligence reports, two remdesivir injections in Kashimira of Thane district, 13 remdesivir injections in Mulund, Mumbai, one tocilizumab injection and two remdesivir injections in Naupada, Thane and one tocilizumab injection in Ulhasnagar were illegally sold at exorbitant prices in contravention to DPCO- 2013. In the case of black marketing of tocilizumab injection at Ulhasnagar, Drug Inspectors Zone 6 Nishiganda Pashte, Nitin Aher and Sandeep Narawane, Thane along with Ulhasnagar Crime Branch Police at Manish Nagar, Ulhasnagar raided and arrested Nita Panjawani with 1 Actemra (tocilizumab injection) of maximum retail price (MRP) of Rs 40,545 per vial illegally selling at a higher price of Rs 60,000 without bill. Police investigation is going on and FIR has been filed in Central Police Station, Ulhasnagar by Pravin Pawar, Assistant Police Commissioner and VT Paunikar, Joint FDA Commissioner, Konkan Division and Sunil Bhardwaj, Joint FDA Commissioner, Vigilance, Maharashtra FDA.
Along with the COVID-19 drug, the team also seized other therapeutic medicines worth Rs. 3,13,482. Maharashtra FDA caught five people red-handed selling remdesivir injection at Rs. 25,000 (the Cipla’s branded injection Cipremi (remdesivir) MRP is Rs 4,000) and tocilizumab sold under Actemra by Cipla in India which has MRP of Rs.40,545 was unethically sold at Rs. 80,000 much higher than market retail prices without license in violation of different sections of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), DPCO-2013, EC Act and D&C Rules.
Talking about the demand –supply gap of COVID-19 drugs, Jugalkishor B Mantri, Joint Commissioner (HQ) and State Drug Controlling Authority said, “We have carried four raids so far based on the action plan. Maharashtra FDA is in the process of plugging loopholes in the drug retail supply chain so that unethical marketing of drugs can be effectively controlled in the interest of patient safety.”
Maharashtra FDA started the massive drive to curb black marketing following an action plan chalked under the guidance of Dr. Rajendra Shingane, Maharashtra FDA Minister, Rajendra Yadravkar, Minister of State, Maharashtra FDA in consultation with Maharashtra FDA Vigilance Commissioner Sunil Bharadwaj.
The state drug regulator has appealed to the patients to contact toll free number of Maharashtra FDA 1800 222 365/022-26592362 if drugs are being sold at a higher rate than the printed rate or MRP.