An artificial scarcity of drugs looms large with the new drug pricing regime, slashing prices for 348 essential drugs, set to prevail from July 29.

Many retailers who stock medicines for a week are not picking up medicines and are keeping a minimum inventory. Some retailers said distributors were not making medicines available. It has sent medical retail stores into a tizzy about the fate of already available stocks.

J.S. Bhati, director, Dada Pharma, a major drug wholesaler here, told The Hindu, “New stocks are not yet available and we cannot make any billing after July 28 on current MRP.”

The changeover to new pricing would include 348 drugs and its combinations taking the list to 700-odd items, said Mr. Bhati.

Drug crunch

The market was going to face a drug crunch unless some relaxation was made for a smooth changeover, he said. Taking off the stock before the new stock arrives would create problems, he added.

It takes about three months for a drug to reach the retailer from the manufacturer. The drugs have to be either returned to the companies or the companies are supposed to send in the new price stickers but nothing has happened so far.

Hospitals are yet to start feeling the crunch. However emergency medicines such as oxytocin injections used in delivery cases, rabies vaccine, tetanus toxoid vaccine and even ORS salts come under the controlled price regime, which if sold on the existing MRP after the cut-off date will invite penal action against the selleThe retailers would have a major problem as it would be difficult for them to identify all the drugs in their inventory under drug control in such a short time, said Mr. Bhati.

Availability of some of the most commonly used drugs such as paracetamol and its combinations, antibiotics such as amoxicillin or erythromycin, drugs for controlling cholesterol, blood pressure and diabetes, respiratory and kidney disorders, and cancer are among the ones that will be most affected.

Paracetamol syrup used for fevers in infants seems to have gone off the shelf in the last couple of days in many outlets. Stocks of other drugs such as folic acid capsules or iron tablets prescribed for pregnant women, cholesterol control drugs and various others have started waning.

As some of the prices have been slashed by over 50 per cent, the retailers and distributors are at their wit’s end, some even thinking of closing shop for a smooth changeover. A retailer in Vyttila, who did not want to be named said they would see what needs to be done as and when the cut-off date arrives. They are keeping their inventory full but for the heavily priced ones.

The new price means that paracetamol tablets that cost Rs. 30 for 15 tablets of 500 mg at present would cost less than a rupee (94 paise) for a tablet as the new price is Rs. 14.10 for 15 tablets of the same dosage. Folic acid tablets which are being sold at Rs. 80.80 for 30 tablets of 5 mg would cost Rs. 34.50 for the same making each tablet cost only Rs. 1.15.

Mammen Abraham of M. G. Medicals on M. G. Road said the supply was going to be severely affected if steps were not taken to tide over the time lag in the changeover.

“I do not have even 50 per cent of the fast moving drugs of a major brand”.

Drug retailers are left with no choice but to return the medicines to the manufacturer or sell it at the new price rate and assimilate some of the losses.

Drug delears’ association that is going through an election process under the High Court supervision does not have the authority to speak in this regard as of now.

“We have asked for intervention by the government, representing our woes to the Minister for Health, the Health Secretary and the Drugs Controller,” said an officer bearer of one of the associations. “However, since the issue is pan-India, we are hoping that some planning would come for a smoother changeover,” he added.

Sachidananda Kamath, superintendent of a private hospital, said the distribution would probably be smoothened out in a week. Manufacturers were not at a loss, it was only a dip in the margins, he added.

The essential drug list under the National List of Essential Medicines was drawn up by the National Pharmaceutical Pricing Authority when the Drug (Prices Control) Order 2013 was brought out on May 15.

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