ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Pharma Freebies, Free from Regulation

Large-scale freebies are provided by pharmaceutical companies to doctors in the absence of a legally enforced regulation of unethical promotion. The current regulation of the pharma industry facilitates multiple escape routes, exemplifying accumulation by institutional adaptation with interlocking of corporate and state actors.

Unethical marketing practices by the pharmaceutical industry are a long-standing headache, which have been further highlighted by the recent Dolo episode. The Supreme Court expressed its concern over the unethical marketing of the painkiller Dolo 650 (paracetamol 650 milligram [mg]), while recently hearing a public interest litigation (PIL) that concerns the regulation of drug promotion by the pharmaceutical industry. Use of this drug prescribed for fever and pain has massively increased during the COVID-19 pandemic; annual sales of Dolo 650 nearly doubled in 2021, compared to pre-epidemic sales in 2019 (Firstpost 2022). Dolo 650 is considered the most prescribed medicine during the pandemic, reaping sales worth over `500 crore since March 2020, being nicknamed the COVID-19 pandemics favourite snack (Perappadan 2022).

Along with the raised demand due to COVID-19, the major jump in sales for one particular brand has been linked with the company distributing freebies to medical professionals (travel expenses, gifts, etc) in exchange for the promotion of their medicines. In July 2022, the Central Board of Direct Taxes (CBDT) had raided 36 premises of the pharma group that manufactures Dolo, revealing evidence of huge unallowable expenses under the head sales and promotion. It is alleged that the company had distributed freebies worth `1,000 crore to doctors in exchange for promoting its various medical products, although this allegation has subsequently been denied by the company.

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Published On : 20th Jan, 2024

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