From dump yards to shelf, expired drugs make a deadly comeback

CHENNAI: The arrest and interrogation of seven persons in connection with repackaging and selling of expired drugs in Chennai have exposed another shocking route through which such medicines come back into market. Two of the accused told the police that they have been picking discarded packs of such medicines from the Kodungaiyur dumping yard and re-labelling them before selling it to agents.

TOI spoke to a woman who makes a living out of picking up expired medicines from the dumping yard. The woman said she makes Rs 120 to 150 per kg of expired medicines this way. For ragpickers at the dumping yards, it is a livelihood. Renuka, a resident of Muthamizh Nagar, who was returning after collecting such waste drugs' from the Kodungaiyur yard said, "I earn Rs 120 to 150 for collecting the medicines from the yard. I start by 6.30 am and wind up by noon. I give the drugs to agents who segregate and pay me by the weight," she said. Children too scrounge here. Murugan, an eight-year-old boy, said he makes Rs 70 on weekends.

The police on Saturday night arrested seven persons in connection with the recycling of expired medicines. The arrested were Sumitha Rani (29), her mother-in-law Jagadhambal (50) of Muthamizh Nagar in Kodungaiyur, agent Thambirajan (50) of Choolaimedu, Govindan (28) of Koyambedu, Vijayakumar (34), Ramakrishnan (35) of Choolaimedu and Kirubakaran (30) of Surapet near Red Hills. Govindan, Ramakrishnan, Vijayakumar and Kirubakaran are employed in a pharmacy called Meena Medical Centre owned by Meenakshi Sundaram, who is absconding.

The police are also on the hunt for Rani's husband Ravi alias Prabhakaran (32), who has gone into hiding after the arrests. Rani and Jagadhambal has confessed that they engaged children to collect the medicines dumped in the yard. "While we nabbed them, they were busy segregating medicines and packing them. We have seized drugs medicines from their house," a police officer said.

As per the protocol, pharmacists should send back drugs past their expiry dates to stockist from whom they had made the procurement. The stockist then returns the consignment to the manufacturer who should ensure their destruction. While the protocol has clearly been flouted, the departments are not sure how to deal with the dumped' drugs.

While the police have asked the directorate of drugs control to remove heaps of expired drugs from such yards, drugs control officials said it was not part of their job and that the corporation should maintain a vigil to prevent such dumping. A drug control official confided to us that all expired drugs are not returned by the pharmacies. "There are some people who collect such drugs to extract aluminium from the foils," he said.

State drugs control director M Bhaskaran said his department is seized of the matter and investigations are on.

"We are pursuing the case and expect a few more seizures. We are working in tandem with the police," he said.