The Food and Drugs Control Administration (FDCA) on Thursday busted a racket allegedly involved in black marketing of an immunosuppressant drug, Tocilizumab injection, used for critical COVID-19 patients, sold under the brand name Actemra, and booked four persons for illegally selling the injection at a higher price.
The four were booked under the Drugs and Cosmetics Act, 1940, and Essential Commodities Act after the FDCA trail from a wholesaler in Surat through a stockist in Surat, a Pharma Agency in Ahmedabad to a pharmacist at the Ahmedabad Civil Hospital ended.
On July 7, The FDCA had warned of prudent use of Tocilizumab and Remdesivir injections to prevent a shortage. After the racket was busted, principal secretary, health and family welfare Jayanti Ravi, who is camping in Surat, announced a panel of three doctors of New Civil Hospital (NCH) in Surat to vet all requests for the Actemra injection.
Assistant commissioner of FDCA, Surat, RM Patel said, “We have sought permission to file a complaint against the accused in the Surat district court. We will slap notices on them and will decide on whether to cancel or suspend their licence.”
The FDCA got a wind of the racket when Surat-based wholesaler Uma Saket Kejriwal who runs Sarthak Pharma, announced about the stock of Actemra injection on her WhatsApp status. According to Patel, it is a common practice among pharmacists to announce new products on their WhatsApp status so that people known to them can contact if needed.
“We saw her WhatsApp status and laid a trap. We sent a dummy customer with a doctor’s prescription to her pharma. Our teams were in the vicinity. When she was shown the prescription, she told him that the price of the injection was Rs 57,000, whereas the government rate is Rs 40,545. When the dummy customer demanded a bill, she refused to give one,” said Patel.
The teams on watch caught her and collected the cash. They also recovered two more Actemra injections from her possession.
After primary interrogation, Kejriwal disclosed that she bought the injections from New Shanti Medicines at Adajan in Surat, owned by one Mitul Shah, for Rs 50,000 each, with no bills. “The FDCA teams then caught Mitul Shah and interrogate him at the FDCA office. Shah disclosed that he had purchased the injections for Rs 45,000 each from Amit Mancharamani, who is associated with KBVK Pharma agency at Asarwa in Ahmedabad, through his friend Ghanshyam Joshi, who works as a pharmacist in Ahmedabad Civil Hospital. Shah had deposited the amount in Joshi’s bank account,” Patel told The Indian Express.
Later the FDCA teams in Ahmedabad caught Joshi and Manchanramani. All the accused were booked under Drugs and Cosmetics Act 1940 and Drug Price Control order 2013 which falls under the Essential commodities Act 1955.
FDCA commissioner HG Koshia, said, “The accused are not cooperating and so we will file an FIR with police help. We are yet to find out where the accused were procuring the stocks from and to whom were they selling them to”.
“The drug was being sold without an authorised purchase bill, charging Rs 57,000 for a single injection with an MRP of Rs 40,000. We have seized three injections of 400 mg,” Koshia added. The injections were imported from Switzerland.
He said that the drug was already in the market and was being used for treatment of a skin disease and rheumatoid arthritis. “It was only in June that the drug was permitted for Covid treatment. It is meant for only severe patients,” Koshia added. He also pointed out that the drug was also being prescribed for patients with mild and moderate symptoms, adding to the shortage in the market.
Principal secretary, health and family welfare, Jayanti Ravi, who has been camping in Surat, told media persons, “The district administration has formed a committee comprising of Dr Samir Gami, Dr Aplesh Parmar and Dr Dipak Shukla of NCH Surat. Private hospitals seeking Actemra injection will have to mail an application to email@example.com, with details of prescription, investigation report and case papers of patient. The committee will check the documents and find out how much quantity of injection is required and later send the proposal to the medical superintendent.”
The FDCA has instructed all the five stockists of the drug in Surat to sell it only when shown the Aadhar card, Covid-19 test report and doctor’s prescription.
(Inputs from Avinash Nair in Ahmedabad)
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