The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in Nashik and Malegaon police claimed to have busted an illegal supply chain of the narcotic, Alprazolam, that was being used by power loom workers for addiction.
The drug, said to be entering Maharashtra via Gujarat from Himachal Pradesh, is often used as a tranquiliser and falls under the purview of the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Sustances (NDPS) Act, 1985.
Last week, the main supplier to Malegaon, identified as Ibraham Ahmed Abdul Ghani alias Dhuri, was arrested from Surat where he went to purchase an illegal stock of the controlled substance. On Tuesday, following his arrest, FDA commissioner Pallavi Darade directed joint commissioners (drugs) across Maharashtra to actively check the supply chain of Alprazolam tablets within their jurisdiction.
Alprazolam is prescribed for diabetes and hypertension and by psychiatrists for panic and anxiety disorders. “Dhuri was buying the stock in wholesale from Surat and selling at a higher price in Malegaon. We are now trying to track the supply chain,” said Neelotpal, additional superintendent of police (rural).
The first tip-off came in July when drug inspectors found unusually high consumption in Malegaon during routine inspections. The FDA then inspected 33 chemist shops in Malegaon only to find that none stocked the batch of Alprazolam found circulating in the market.
Since then, the FDA has filed seven FIRs with Malegaon police. “The batch that was seized was manufactured by CB Healthcare in Nalagarh, Himachal Pradesh. We have written to the respective state FDA and informed Central Drugs Standard Control Organisation,” said Pravin Mundada, assistant commissioner (drugs), Nashik.
Alprazolam worth Rs 25,000 has been seized and 11, including Dhuri, have been named accused for consuming and selling the drug without prescription. Drug inspectors in Nashik claimed that an illegal stock of codeine phosphate, found in cough syrup and used for addiction, was also seized in two cases. “The labourers in Malegaon work double shifts into the night in powerlooms. Several need the tranquilising effect to work longer hours,” said VT Jadhav, joint commissioner (drugs), Nashik.
Malegaon has over 5,000 power looms and 200 sizing units. Police records showed Alprazolam was getting consumed in the age bracket 15 to 30 years. The FDA officials investigating the case said manufacturers CB Healthcare in Himachal Pradesh got permission to buy raw material from Gwalior-based narcotics commissioner. The drug is marketed by RS Pharmaceuticals and supplied to Ahmedabad in Gujarat.
Mundada added, “We suspect that the drug is illegally directed from Ahmedabad. It is supplied to Surat from where it enters Malegaon.” While the cost of a tablet strip is Rs 45, in Malegaon a strip is sold for over Rs 100.
The FDA has put up 600 pamphlets in Hindu and Urdu in Malegaon to raise awareness against Alprazolam consumption. It has also reached out to the Indian Medical Association to prescribe an alternative.
According to the FDA, the illegal stock of other manufacturers — Pure & Cure Healthcare (Haridwar), All Kind Healthcare (Himachal Pradesh) and Globin Pharmaceuticals (Haridwar) — have also been seized.