The State government has written to the National Pharmaceutical Pricing Authority urging it to regulate prices of commonly-used abortion pills.

“Our Drugs Control Directorate staff have, during raids, unearthed cases of commonly-used abortion pills being overcharged in the market. This is clear exploitation. Everyone who needs the pill will purchase it at any cost,” Principal Secretary, Health, V.K. Subburaj, has told The Hindu.

The price of the generic drug mifepristone ranges between Rs.275 and Rs.395 in the market. In addition, drug companies provide pharmacies with offers of up to three free drugs for every drug bought. These free drugs contain the same price tag and are sold at the same price by the pharmacy, which then makes 100 per cent profit on sales of that drug.

“We are suggesting to the NPPA that these drugs used commonly to medically terminate pregnancies be brought under the Drugs (Prices Control) Order, 1995. The urgency and secrecy that sometimes shrouds these cases forces even the poor to buy the drug at any cost. Clearly, the pharmacies are overcharging, up to five times higher,” says Mr. Subburaj. The State intends to follow up the issue with the NPPA.

Director of Drugs Control M. Bhaskaran, says the office has collected dealer invoices noting ‘bonus' drugs given for every drug produced. The companies, including Cipla, Cadila, Sun Pharma, and Mankind, sold mifepristone under various brand names. Their invoices with the dealers indicate that three drugs are given free of cost to pharmacies for every drug purchased.

“These are not physician samples on which it is clearly mentioned that the drugs cannot be sold. These drugs comes as a sale pack and so the price, say for instance, Rs.395, is printed on every single drug blister and sold as such to patients,” Mr. Bhaskaran explains. Not unlike FMCG companies that offer 30 per cent extra with every pack, the drug companies are giving four pills and charging just for one. However, the benefits do not reach the patient.

“The company is giving the pharmacy four pills and charging for just one. This means they can provide each drug at a lower price,” Mr. Bhaskaran points out.

The practice was unearthed after Drug Inspectors raided a number of pharmacies in Tirupur on a complaint that they were selling these prescription pills over the counter.