Counterfeit medicines in Telangana: How drug officials are identifying fake drugs

In December and January, the Drugs Control Administration of Telangana uncovered illicit drug operations in Hyderabad, valued at ₹26 lakh.

BySumit Jha

Published Jan 17, 2024 | 9:00 AMUpdatedJan 17, 2024 | 9:00 AM

Pantoprazole is commonly prescribed to manage conditions such as gastroesophageal reflux disease, basically working by reducing stomach acid production and promoting digestive tract healing. (Supplied)

Have you heard of Bollywood’s famous Orry? Orhan Awatramani is a social media influencer who is famous for having, well, famous friends — his claim to fame lies not in the creative arts but in capturing selfies with various celebrities.

In the world of pharmaceuticals, there exists a medicine that, much like Orry, is famous for its wide use by association. We’re talking about pantoprazole.

As Orry’s social media posts gained traction in the last few months, doctors have drawn a hilarious parallel between pantoprazole and Orry.


While it may not target your illness, pantoprazole does serve a purpose. It is commonly prescribed to manage conditions such as gastroesophageal reflux disease, basically working by reducing stomach acid production and promoting digestive tract healing.

When prescribing any high-dosage medication, doctors also prescribe pantoprazole, commonly sold as Pantop-DSR or PAN-DSR, to keep the stomach acid balanced.

But what if this essential medicine turns out to be a counterfeit?

In December 2023 and January 2024, the Drugs Control Administration (DCA) of Telangana uncovered illicit drug operations in Hyderabad when they seized counterfeit drugs valued at ₹26 lakh originating from Kashipur in Uttarakhand, and Ghaziabad in Uttar Pradesh, transported through courier services.

One of the drugs was Pantop-DSR, which contains pantoprazole, which is being used widely.

Also Read: Union Health Ministry yet to take decision on rollout of HPV vaccine

Counterfeit drug menace

Counterfeit drugs pose a significant threat to public health, as they involve the production of falsified medications that conceal their true identity, mimicking reputable products, especially well-known brands, to deceive consumers and capitalise on the popularity of the original items. These spurious drugs may feature details of non-existent manufacturers or fictitious companies.

The content of counterfeit drugs can vary widely, with some containing no active ingredients (referred to as “Nil” medicines), often substituted with substances like chalk, corn starch, or potato starch. Others may have incorrect active ingredients, for instance, amoxicillin capsules might contain paracetamol instead.

Furthermore, the amount of active ingredients can be incorrect, with potentially serious consequences, such as amoxicillin capsules labelled as 500 mg but containing only 50 mg of amoxicillin.

Certain spurious drugs may also be toxic, containing fatal levels of the wrong active ingredient or other harmful chemicals. The health risks associated with these counterfeit medications are severe, jeopardising patients’ well-being by failing to effectively treat diseases and leading to detrimental consequences over time.

The use of spurious drugs also erodes confidence in healthcare providers and health systems.

“Detecting spurious drugs is a challenging task, as they are intentionally designed to closely resemble genuine products, making identification difficult,” an official of the Telangana’s DCA told South First.

He added, “This not only hampers effective treatment but also undermines trust in healthcare providers and systems, emphasising the critical need for robust measures to combat the production and distribution of counterfeit medications.”

Also Read: Metabolic health: Stop ignoring these red flags and start listening to your body!

Counterfeit identification

Click to enlarge.

Detecting visually-identical counterfeit drugs can be challenging, but several techniques can help identify discrepancies and ensure authenticity. The DCA provides a few tips:

1. Side-by-side comparison: If you have previously used a specific product, compare the suspicious product with the original from the same company. Note any variations in size, weight, colour, quality, or embossing, as these could indicate counterfeiting. Taking photographs for future comparisons is advisable.

2. Spelling errors: Carefully examine medicine labels for spelling mistakes or grammatical errors. Inconsistencies in the product name, manufacturer, or main ingredients should raise suspicion.

3. Check dates: Verify the manufacturing date and expiry date, ensuring that the details on the outer carton match those on the inner label of the strip, blister, or bottle.

Click to enlarge.

4. Medicine appearance: Confirm that the medicine matches the correct size and shape. Any deviation from the appearance of the previously used medicine from the same company could be a red flag. Check for discoloration, degradation, or unusual smells. For blister-packed tablets, ensure uniformity, and for bottled tablets, confirm consistency. Chipped, cracked, or faulty coating of tablets should be considered suspicious.

5. Public observations: Public awareness of variations in appearance and packaging can contribute to identifying counterfeit products.

6. Suspiciously low-priced products: Be cautious if the price is significantly lower or if the product is offered at a substantial discount compared to the usual market rate.

Click to enlarge.

7. Lack of authenticity features: Check for the presence of barcodes or QR codes, especially for the top 300 brand names notified by the Government of India. Legitimate products manufactured after August 2023 are expected to bear these features.

8. Compromised packaging: Inspect the packaging for signs of tampering. Ensure that seals are intact and there are no indications of the package being opened.

9. Unusual health problems: If you experience unexplained side effects or unusual allergic reactions after using a drug, consider the possibility of it being suspicious.

Click to enlarge.

10. Insist on a bill: Always request a bill when purchasing medicines from a medical shop. The phrase “No Bill, No Pill” emphasises the importance of proper documentation.

11. Purchase from licensed sources: Avoid buying medicines from unregulated websites or unauthorised platforms. Purchase medications only from licensed medical shops that prominently display their licences issued by the Drugs Control Administration.

Also Read: A patient guide on robotic spine surgery by a renowned surgeon

Counterfeits in Telangana

The efforts of the DCA in Telangana are focused on detecting the movement of spurious drugs in the market, aiming to make the state free of the menace of counterfeit medications.

In an operation in December 2023, the Telangana DCA successfully seized fake anti-cancer drugs from a godown in Machabollaram.

The DCA officials, during raids conducted in December and January, identified and confiscated several other counterfeit drugs.

These fake medicines were falsely labelled under the names of well-known pharmaceutical companies, including Sun Pharma (Rosuvas 10 for high cholesterol treatment), Glenmark Pharma (Telma H, Telma 40 for hypertension treatment), Aristo Pharmaceuticals (Monocef-O 200 for antibiotic treatment), and Torrent Pharma (Chymoral Forte for pain relief and swelling).

Furthermore, the DCA officials uncovered three varieties of antibiotics, namely Mpod-200 (Cefpodoxime Proxetil and Lactic Acid Bacillus tablets), Mexclav 625 (Amoxicillin and Potassium Clavulanate, Lactic Acid Bacillus tablets), and Cefoxim-CV tablets (Cefpodoxime Proxetil and Potassium Clavulanate, Lactic Acid Bacillus tablets).

“These antibiotics were falsely labelled as manufactured by ‘Meg Lifesciences, Palli Gaon, Sirmour, Himachal Pradesh’, a company found to be fictitious and non-existent,” said DCA officials.

Also Read: Landmark study by Apollo Hospitals redefines prostate cancer detection in India

Reporting counterfeits

If there is suspicion that a product is fake or spurious, individuals can take the following steps to report and address the issue:

1. Contact the Local Drugs Inspector or Assistant Director, Drug Control Administration:
– Visit the Drugs Control Administration, Telangana website.
– Navigate to the “Key Contacts” section for details on the contact number and address of the local Drugs Inspector or Assistant Director.
– Report the suspected spurious drug to the relevant authorities.

2. DCA Toll-Free Number:
– Dial the DCA Toll-Free Number: 18005996969.
– The toll-free number is functional from 10:30 am to 5:00 pm on all working days.
– Provide information about the suspected spurious drug to the DCA officials.

3. Check Medical Shop Posters:
– Medical shops in Telangana prominently display posters bearing details of the local drugs inspector, including their name, contact number, and address.
– Additionally, the toll-free number of DCA is usually provided on these posters.
– Report any information regarding suspected spurious drugs to the Drugs Control Administration, Telangana officials using the contact details on the posters.