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Bar codes could come soon to plug menace of sub-standard drugs

New Delhi, Oct 1, 2022

Now you will soon be able to check if the medicine you are popping is safe, and not spurious. The government plans to launch a `track and trace’ mechanism for top-selling medicines to prevent the sale of counterfeit and sub-standard medicines, and ensure quality, sources told TOI.

In the first phase, 300 top-selling drugs will print or affix bar codes or quick response codes on their `primary’ packaging labels. Widely-sold antibiotics, cardiac, pain-relief pills, and anti-allergics, with an MRP of over Rs 100 per strip are expected to be included.

The move, though conceptualised and debated a decade back, has been in abeyance due to the ill-preparedness of the domestic pharma industry, and technology not being in place.

Even for exports, the track and trace mechanism has been deferred till April 2023.

Over the years, there have been several instances of counterfeit and sub-standard drugs in the market, some seized by state drug regulators. Recently, amongst the major cases--Abbott said its thyroid medication Thyronorm, listed by Telangana drugs authority as "not of standard quality", was counterfeit, and not manufactured or marketed by it.

In another instance, a fake drug racket of Glenmark’s blood pressure pill, Telma-H at Baddi was busted.

Industry experts say it is necessary for pharma firms to ensure quality in the home and overseas markets, and barcoding could help.

In June, the government asked pharmaceutical companies to print or affix bar codes or quick response codes on their primary packaging label, or on the secondary package label that store data or information legible with software applications to facilitate authentication.

Once the software is in place, the consumer will be able to check the genuineness of the medicine by feeding the unique identification code, on a portal (website) developed by the ministry, and later tracked even through a mobile phone or a text message.

Several options are being studied, including setting up a central database agency to be a single barcode provider for the entire industry, the sources said, adding it could take a few weeks to implement.

"The cost of implementing the system will increase costs by 3-4% for us'', an industry player said.

[The Times of India]