Makers of DOLO-65O spent ₹1,000 crores as freebies on doctors for prescribing the tablet: Supreme Court told

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A body of medical representatives told the Supreme Court on Thursday that the Central Board for Direct Taxes has accused makers of Dolo-650 tablet 50 of distributing freebies worth ₹1,000 crore to doctors as consideration for prescribing the tablet [Federation of Medical & Sales Representatives Association of India v. Union of India].

Senior Advocate Sanjay Parikh, appearing for Federation of Medical & Sales Representatives Association of India, submitted that DOLO had invested 1,000 core in freebies to have its anti-fever drug prescribed to patients.

Justice DY Chandrachud who was heading the bench also comprising Justice AS Bopanna, said that it is a serious issue and even he was prescribed the same during COVID.

“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 Central government represented by Additional Solicitor General KM Natraj was directed to file a reply within 10 days.

The Court was hearing a public interest litigation (PIL) petition seeking directions to make pharmaceutical companies liable for giving freebies to doctors as incentive to prescribe their drugs.

The plea by the Federation of Medical & Sales Representatives Association of India sought direction to give statutory backing to the Uniform Code of Pharmaceutical Marketing Practices (UCPMP).

The petitioner pointed out the example of the excessive sale and prescription of the drug Remdisivir during the COVID-19 pandemic as an example.

The PIL filed through advocate Aparna Bhat stated that the right to health is a part of the right to life and pharmaceutical companies adhering to ethical marketing practices is essential to that.

There is currently no law or regulation that prohibits such practices in the absence of any statutory basis for the UCPMP, a voluntary set of rules for the sector, the petition said.

Corruption in pharmaceutical marketing practices is unregulated in India despite being a signatory to the UN Convention against corruption, the petitioner submitted.

This leads to a situation where the consumer pays a lot for branded medicines that is over-prescribed or irrationally prescribed by doctors in exchange for gifts, entertainment, hospitality and other advantages, it was contended.

The potency of such drugs and poisons pose a danger to the life and health of people even as doctors can be penalised for misconduct facilitated by the pharmaceutical companies that walk away scot-free, the plea stated.

The petitioner thus sought that directions to the government to give the UCPMP statutory basis and make it effective by providing a “monitoring mechanism, transparency, accountability as well as consequences of violations”.

In the interim, it was prayed that the top court itself issue such guidelines or make the UCPMP binding as it sees fit.

The government had, shortly after the last hearing, released a draft UCPMP and invited comments.

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