Practically every home in the city has a box full of medicines.

Big, small, white, yellow and pink, drugs come in all sizes, shapes and colours, but how many people taking them actually know their composition?

A better understanding of a prescribed drug would ensure that a patient can follow the doctor’s instruction better.

And it was to this end that the State government launched the Drug Information Centre in 2007, with the support of the State Pharmacy Council and the Drug Control Authority.

The information centre, manned by a person qualified in pharmaceutics, is open between 10 a.m. and 5 p.m. and has been receiving calls daily, said T. Elango, registrar of Tamil Nadu Pharmacy Council.

“Awareness is low among people about the centre and we are trying to educate people about our presence by pasting flyers in pharmacies,” he added.

Most often, people who call the centre want information about antibiotics. Some of the drugs for which details are sought are antibiotics like ciprofloxacin, ampicillin and proxycillin. A regular question is about the use of paracetamol and painkillers.

“Request for information peaks between May and July, when on a day, we receive five to six calls,” We don’t know the reason but it could be because of the holiday season,” he said. Given the large number of drugs in the market only a few are seeking information, Mr. Elango added. The centre can be reached between 10 a.m. and 5 p.m. at 044-24338421 or through email at tndruginfo@gmail.com or tndruginfo@yahoo.com.

The council also offers refresher courses to chemists, druggists and pharmacists.

Around 68,000 pharmacists are registered with the council. Chennai has more than 47,000 pharmacists who are expected to undergo two refresher courses every five years.

The chemists and druggists and the pharmacy council say they provide information only about the drug and the dosage prescribed and do not play doctor.

“The rest of the details about the prescription itself must come from the physicians who prescribe the drug,” saidN. Anand, secretary, Tamil Nadu Chemists and Druggists Association. Though the council has been conducting refresher courses since 1998 on the latest developments in drugs and new discoveries, there are still lacunae.

Competitive business

Merely educating pharmacists will not ensure that the profession is lucrative, retail chemists say. High electricity tariff, the need to maintain air-conditioned shops, non-revision of profit margin for over 30 years and competition from multinational companies which pass on huge discount to customers is killing their business, Mr. Anand rued. The government has launched in a phased manner around 150 pharmacies in the cooperative sector and this has eaten in to the business of the retailer chemists.

Adding to their woes is the new chain stores launched by multinational companies. “We get around 17 per cent as trade margin on decontrolled drugs and 15 per cent on controlled drugs but MNC chain stores in Coimbatore are offering around 18 to 21 per cent discount on drugs. We cannot go on for long this way. The government must raise the trade margin if the rural customer must benefit,” Mr. Anand said.

More In: Chennai | Health | Sci-Tech