The Supreme Court on Thursday termed as a “serious issue” a matter taken up by an NGO related to CBDT’s allegations against the makers of Dolo tablets that they had given free gifts of around Rs 1,000 crore to doctors for prescribing 650 mg of anti-inflammatory drugs were distributed Fever-reducing medicine.
Senior advocate Sanjay Parikh and advocate Aparna Bhat, appearing for the petitioner ‘Federation of Medical and Sales Representative Association of India’, told a bench of Justice DY Chandrachud and Justice AS Bopanna that the market value of any tablet up to 500 mg controlled under it. The price control mechanism of the government but the price of the drug above 500 mg can be decided by the concerned pharma company.
Parikh alleged that to ensure higher profit margins, the Dolo tablet maker distributed free gifts to doctors for prescribing 650 mg of the drug. The advocate also said that he would like to bring more such facts to the notice of the court once the Centre’s reply is filed.
“What you are saying is music to my ears. This is exactly the drug that I had when I had COVID recently. This is a serious issue and we will look into it,” Justice Chandrachud said.
The bench then asked Additional Solicitor General KM Natraj to file his reply on the petitioner’s plea within ten days and thereafter gave him a week to file his rejoinder.
It listed the matter for further hearing on September 29.
The Central Board of Direct Taxes (CBDT) on July 13 charged manufacturers of Dolo-650 tablets with freebies worth around Rs 1,000 crore in exchange for indulging in “unethical practices” and promoting products made by them to doctors and medical professionals was accused of doing drug group.
The Income Tax Department had made this claim on July 6 after raids on 36 premises of Micro Labs Limited based in Bengaluru in nine states.
A lawyer sought the court’s permission to file an intervention on behalf of the pharma companies, which was allowed by the court saying it would like to hear them also on the issue.
On March 11, the apex court directed the Center to formulate a Uniform Code of Pharmaceutical Marketing Practice to check alleged unethical practices of pharma companies and ensure an effective monitoring mechanism, transparency, accountability as well as consequences of violations. Agreed to examine the petition seeking to give.
The top court had said that it wants to know what the government has to say on this issue.
Parikh had said that this is an important issue in the public interest.
He submitted that the pharmaceutical companies are claiming that they are not liable for punishment as the bribe takers are doctors.
Parikh said the government should look into this aspect and the code should be made of a statutory nature because “we all know what happened with remdesivir injections and other drugs of those combinations”.
The top court had then asked the petitioner why a representation could not be made to the government, which Parikh said they had already done.
He had said that he has been taking up the issue with the government since 2009 and by the time the government comes out with a code for regulation, this court can frame some guidelines.
The petition said the Indian Medical Council (Professional Conduct, Etiquette and Ethics) Regulations of 2002 prescribe a Code of conduct for doctors in their relationship with the pharmaceutical and allied health sector industry and prohibit acceptance of gifts and entertainment, travel facilities, hospitality, cash or monetary grants by medical practitioners from Pharmaceutical companies.
“This code is enforceable against doctors. However, this does not apply to pharmaceutical companies, leading to extreme situations where doctors’ licenses are revoked for malpractice, which is active, encouraged, aided and abetted by pharma companies. Pharma companies become spotless”, it added.
The petition claims that though it is called a ‘sales incentive’, in reality, direct or indirect benefits (in the form of gifts and entertainment, sponsored foreign trips, hospitality and other benefits) to doctors in return for an increase in sales of medicines are given.
It states that the promotion of unethical drugs may adversely affect the prescription attitude of doctors and cause harm to human health by overuse/over-prescription of drugs, prescription of drugs in more than required dosage, and longer time than required. For prescription drugs, high drug prescriptions, an excessive number of drugs and prescriptions of an irrational combination of drugs.