India, the world’s largest manufacturer of generic drugs, has become a center for counterfeit and substandard medicines, reports the Washington Post. Stuffed in slick packaging and often labeled with names of such legitimate companies as GlaxoSmithKline, Pfizer and Novartis, the fake drugs are passed off to consumers and sold in developing nations around the world. Experts say the global fake-drug industry, worth about $90 billion, causes the deaths of almost 1 million people a year and contributes to a rise in drug resistance.
The Indian government says that 0.4 percent of the country’s drugs are counterfeit and that substandard drugs account for about 8 percent. Independent estimates range from 12 to 25 percent. The health ministry launched a reward program offering $55,000 to those who provide information about fake-drug syndicates. Last year, the ministry also strengthened its drug law to speed up court trials. Suspects found guilty of manufacturing and selling fake drugs can be sentenced to life in prison. The number of people arrested for manufacturing and selling fake drugs rose from 12 in 2006 to 147 last year, and drugs worth about $6.5 million were seized over this period. “It is very difficult to dismantle the entire operation,” said one investgiator. “When we bust one operation, two more spring up elsewhere. Convictions are rare.”