The Supreme Court on Thursday asked the Central Board for Direct Taxes to respond in 10 days to the allegations that Micro Labs, the manufacturer of Dolo-650 tablet, has been distributing freebies of around Rs 1,000 crore to doctors as a consideration for prescribing the anti-fever drug during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Senior counsel Sanjay Parikh, representing Federation of Medical & Sales Representatives Association of India, told a Bench led by Justice D Y Chandrachud that DOLO had invested Rs 1,000 core in freebies to have its anti-fever drug prescribed to patients.
Even the judge agreed that the allegations were “serious” even as he admitted of being prescribed the same medicine when he got infected with Corona virus.
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“This is not music to my ears. I was also asked to have the same when I had COVID. This is a serious issue and matter,” Justice Chandrachud remarked.
The apex court had also in March sought response from the Centre on a plea seeking guidelines to regulate unethical marketing practices by pharmaceutical companies that allegedly resulting into excessive prescription of high-cost and over-priced drug brands affecting right to health and life of the citizens.
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Even the SC in its separate February judgment had expressed its concern over pharmaceutical companies influencing doctors’ prescription by giving assorted freebies like gold coins, fridges and LCD TVs to funding international trips for vacations or to attend medical conferences, in lieu of suggesting drugs manufactured by them. It had held that pharmaceutical companies’ gifting freebies to doctors, is clearly “prohibited by law”, and they cannot claim tax deductions for it.
The PIL by the Federation of Medical & Sales Representatives Association of India had alleged that the unethical marketing practices by pharmaceutical companies in their dealings with healthcare professionals.
No enforceable law exists which regulates the promotion of drugs by pharmaceutical companies vis-à-vis healthcare professionals, and therefore unethical practices continue unfettered, Parekh had argued.
The trade union body had said that the Indian Medical Council (Professional conduct, Etiquette and Ethics) Regulations of 2002, which prescribe a code of conduct for doctors in their relationship with pharmaceutical and allied health sector industry, and prohibit acceptance of freebies by medical practitioners from pharma companies, is enforceable against doctors only and does not apply to drug companies, thus leading to anomalous situations where doctors’ licenses are cancelled for “misconduct which is actuated, encouraged, aided and abetted by pharma companies. The pharma companies go scotfree.”
The government had, shortly after the last hearing in March, released a draft Uniform Code of Pharmaceutical Marketing Practices and invited comments from the stakeholders.
Citing various cited instances how pharma majors were prosecuted or fined for unethical practices, the petition said doctors were sentenced in Germany in the 1996 heart valve scandal, Johnson & Johnson paid USD 2.2 billion to the U.S. authorities in 2009, Pfizer paid USD 2.3 billion to settle civil and criminal allegations in 2013 and also paid USD23.85 Million for paying kickbacks in 2018 and GSK paid ¥ 3 billion in fine and its four executives were jailed in China in 2014.