Makers of the paracetamol drug ‘Dolo’, which became popular as a drug during the Covid-19 pandemic, spent more than Rs 1,000 crore as gifts for doctors, a body of medical representatives told the Supreme Court on Thursday.
The company that makes the Dolo-650 tablets, Micro Labs, saw its profits skyrocket during the height of the coronavirus outbreak, so much so that the drug became a meme on social media due to its frequent use in Indian households.
Now the company that makes the drug is in the midst of a controversy after the Federation of Sales and Medical Representatives Association of India (FMRAI) alleged it distributed $1 billion worth of gifts rupees to doctors to promote the drug.
According to the FMRAI vs Union of India case being heard in the Supreme Court, it has been alleged that Micro Labs was giving doctors gifts amounting to more than Rs 1000 crore in total to prescribe Dolo-650 as the drug. reference for all patients with flu symptoms.
A tribunal of Judges DY Chandrachud and AS Bopanna was told by Lead Counsel Sanjay Parikh and Counsel Aparna Bhat, appearing for petitioner ‘Federation of Indian Sales and Medical Representatives Association’, that the market price of any tablet up to 500 mg is regulated by the government price control mechanism, but the price of the drug above 500 mg can be set by the manufacturer Pharma Company.
He said that to ensure a higher profit margin, the company distributed gifts to doctors for prescribing the drug Dolo with a dosage capacity of 650 mg.
FMRAI is a national union with units in 300 cities and towns. The body seeks the application of the right to life under article 21 of the Constitution, alleging increasing cases of unethical marketing practices by pharmaceutical companies in their dealings with health professionals. This, he says, results in irrational and excessive prescriptions and a boost to overpriced brands, practices that directly affect the health of citizens.
In the PIL, petitioners have also prayed for a legal code of ethical marketing, with criminal consequences, to be established for the pharmaceutical industry to curb such practices. Because the existing code is voluntary, unethical practices continue to proliferate, something that came to light during the pandemic.
FMRAI’s attorney said the price of a tablet up to 500mg is regulated by the government, but the price of a drug over 500mg can be set by the manufacturer.
The lawyer further said that the Dolo-650 prescription for most patients was an “irrational dose combination”, after which Judge Chandrachud commented that the drug was exactly what he was given when suffering from covid-19.
The guilty plea filed against the pharmaceutical company stated that, although they have characterized this practice as a sales promotion, various “unethical” benefits are offered to doctors to promote the drug, such as gifts and entertainment, sponsored trips abroad, hospitality and other benefits.
He said that unethical drug promotion can negatively influence physicians’ prescribing attitudes and harm human health through overuse/overprescription of drugs, prescription of higher-than-necessary drug doses, prescription of drugs for a longer period than necessary, the prescription of a greater number of drugs than necessary and the prescription of an irrational combination of drugs.
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