Nod to drug brand names with rider

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Top government officials today clarified that doctors across India were free to prescribe medicines through brand names, but iterated that they should write the pharmacological, generic names alongside as part of efforts to promote inexpensive medicines.

Union chemicals and fertilisers minister Ananth Kumar, who is also in charge of the pharmaceuticals department, said the government would make it mandatory for doctors to write the generic names of medicines, but indicated that doctors and patients could pick brands.

Kumar said the government had taken steps to make it mandatory for pharmaceutical companies to display generic names on medicine packets in fonts much larger than those used to display brand names.

He said the health ministry had sent an advisory to all central government hospitals asking their in-house doctors to prescribe medicines in generic names. The ministry has also sent an advisory to all states asking them to follow suit with state hospitals.

He said the government was taking steps to amend rules to make it mandatory for doctors to write down generic names and allow retail chemists to substitute one brand with another.

The Narendra Modi government’s renewed push to promote generic medicines and prescriptions with generic names had given rise to speculation among sections of doctors whether they would be prohibited from writing brand names on prescriptions.

But Kumar indicated that the drive to promote generics would not prohibit brand names. “We are not into banning anything – no one can withhold the choice of a brand, people are free to use brands of their choice,” he said, responding to a query on whether the government intended to ban brand names on medical prescriptions.

A senior official in the pharmaceuticals department also said that while the government would promote generic medicines, there was no specific ban on the writing of brand names. A Medical Council of India official too had last month said doctors could continue to write brand names.

Kumar said the Modi government had expanded access to inexpensive generic medicines by accelerating the so-called Janaushadi programme that seeks to provide inexpensive generic versions of medicines at 2 to 15 times lower cost than what they would cost in standard retail pharmacies.

The Janaushadi scheme launched by the UPA government in 2008 had established 104 outlets offering relatively inexpensive generic versions of 361 medicines by 2014. “We have now accelerated and expanded the scheme – we now have 1,320 Janaushadi outlets with a wider basket of over 600 medicines,” Kumar said.

The Janaushadi outlets provide generic versions of antibiotics and medicines to treat cardiovascular disorders, diabetes, respiratory illness and kidney diseases among other therapeutic areas at lower costs than standard retail pharmacies.

A pack of 10 tablets of a drug called amlodipine, used to treat high blood pressure, for instance, costs about Rs 36 from retail pharmacies but is available for Rs 3.54 at Janaushadi centres. The cost of the generic version of the anti-diabetes drug metformin in a Janaushadi centre is five-fold lower than what it costs in retail shops.

Kumar said the Janaushadi stores would, in an effort to ensure supply of only high quality medicines, procure medicines only from manufacturers who meet the “good manufacturing practices” standards endorsed by the World Health Organisation.