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Thursday, August 06, 2020

Panel seeks details of people given pills, de-addiction centres cite confidentiality

Last year, Health Secretary Anurag Aggarwal had claimed that as many as 5 crore pills had gone missing. He had also served notices to 23 private de-addiction centres.

Written by Kanchan Vasdev | Chandigarh | Published: July 23, 2020 12:30:36 pm
‘Missing’ de-addiction pills The present inquiry holds importance as the issue had become an embarrassment for the government, with the Opposition raising questions about it.

Days after Punjab Chief Minister Capt Amarinder Singh constituted a committee to look into the curious case of missing de-addiction pills, Buprenorphine-Naloxone, the committee has asked private de-addiction centres to provide details of people who were administered these pills.

However, the centres are seeing red, citing that the Medical Council of India prohibits sharing of confidential data of addicts to protect their privacy.

After the committee — comprising chief of SIT on drugs, Harpreet Sidhu, Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Kahan Singh Pannu and Director Health Services Dr Avneet Kaur — the mental health wing of DHS has written to private de-addiction centres seeking data of all admitted addicts from now on.

The committee members have said that they needed the data to collate whether the pills went missing or were administered to the addicts.

“We asked the de-addiction centres about these pills. They said these were administered. Hence we have asked the them to supply us with the list of addicts who were supplied these pills. That is all. Otherwise, why would we need the data? Also, it will be in the custody of the government. Who is going to misuse it?” asked Pannu.

He added that if these pills had gone missing, it was a serious issue. “It has to be taken to a logical conclusion. If they have the data, they should provide it to us,” he added.

De-addiction centres however are reluctant. “It is for the first time that such private data is being asked. MCI does not allow providing of such data to any party or agency other than the courts. This would be a breach of trust and confidentiality,” said a doctor at a de-addiction centre.

Last year, Health Secretary Anurag Aggarwal had claimed that as many as 5 crore pills had gone missing. He had also served notices to 23 private de-addiction centres.

A few days ago, Punjab Health Minister Balbir Singh Sidhu had stated that the health secretary’s action was “biased” and recommended an inquiry into the case. The CM had then handed over the inquiry to the three-member committee.

The present inquiry holds importance as the issue had become an embarrassment for the government, with the Opposition raising questions about it.

The issue has also seen a war of words between the state health minister and health secretary. Sidhu had written on the file that “HS action was biased”, “caused an embarrassment to the government” as he “brought on record certain points which have no substance and cannot be corroborated by any documents”.

Sidhu had raised questions, stating, “The sequence of events and facts as shown clearly demonstrate that the health secretary has brought on record certain facts which have no substance and cannot be corroborated by any document.

The issue of missing pills was raised by him in November 2019 but even after seven months no concrete verification, reconciliation has been done by him.

The HS should have got a thorough audit done of private de-addiction centres and taken a thorough report from the DHS office with correct and actual figures before issuing show cause notices to private de-addiction centres.

The actions of HS seem to have been done in haste and it is a personal bias to highlight and sensationalise the issue which has brought huge embarrassment to the government.”

The issue had come to fore in November last year.

Over 20 private drug de-addiction centres had got notices on the plea that they had purchased over 8 crore tablets, but online data showed only 3 crore tablets were administered to addicts under the de-addiction program despite a clear SOP by the government.

There was no record of 5 crore pills amid concerns that these could have been sold off in the open market and caused a set back to the state’s anti-drug drive.

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