On November 25, 2019, Ashok Kumar, resident of Ramnagar area of Jammu region’s Udhampur district took his three-year old ailing son to the local chemist Mohinder Singh’s Jamwal Medical Hall Shop. Kumar’s son, Anirudh, was suffering from acute cold and chest infection.
“Singh gave us Cold Best-PC syrup and amoxicillin,” Kumar told NewsClick.
Anirudh’s health declined within a week of consuming the prescribed medicine and finally he died at PGIMER, Chandigarh on January 10, 2020. “It started with vomiting and fever. We were referred from one hospital to another in Jammu and finally to PGI Chandigarh where he died because of renal failure,” Anirudh’s father, Kumar said. Kumar was the first to approach the private “registered medical practitioner” for the medicine.
What followed next was death of 10 children after consuming the same drug as prescribed to Anirudh.
After testing the samples of cough syrup, PGIMER laboratory prima facie has detected presence of diethylene glycol in the September 2019 batch of ColdBest-PC. The drug was manufactured at Digital Vision, Himachal Pradesh and was sold in Jammu and Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Tiruchirapalli of Tamil Nadu, Shilling of Meghalaya, and Tripura.
“80% of them belonged to the Schedule Caste community and were very poor to take their children to the good hospitals. They just earn Rs 3-4,000 per month. For them, it was their fate,” Kumar told NewsClick.
Meanwhile, the production of the cold syrup has been stalled and states where the drug was distributed has been asked to stop the sales.
A report by The Indian Express, has quoted Dr Renu Sharma as saying, “The children were initially taken to the private practitioner, as the parents believed that it was a case of normal cold. By the time they were brought to Ramnagar Sub-District and Udhampur District Hospitals, the children had gone into renal failure.” What was common in all the deaths was that they had consumed ColdBest-PC syrup.
Another parent, Madan Lal, who works as an SSB paramilitary officer, lost his 18-month-old son. Lal blamed it on the laxity of the administration. “There is not even a single good doctor in this area. Doctors come and go whenever they find time. Administration never interferes, there is no proper health facility and no one from the administration visited us or offered sympathy. What happened has happened. But shouldn’t the government make sure that it doesn’t happen again?,” Lal asked.
Almost all the families, NewsClick spoke to, said that no action has been taken until now. “We want that Mohinder Singh be arrested and his shop to be sealed. Just because we are poor Schedule Caste people, they can’t sell low-quality products to us,” said Kumar.
Konic Goyal, MD, Digital Vision, refrained from speaking to NewsClick saying that “he has been distressed.”
However, Goyal was quoted by The Indian Express as saying, “We can say anything only when the investigations are complete. The laboratory report only suspects prima facie presence of a compound (Diethylene Glycol) in the syrup, and a final report confirming or ruling out its presence is yet to come.”
Meanwhile, the medical shop of Mohinder Singh has been shut for a month now.
As per the Drugs and Cosmetics Act:
“Any drug deemed to be adulterated under section 17A or spurious under section 6 [17B] (and which) when used by any person for or in the diagnosis, treatment, mitigation, or prevention of any disease or disorder is likely to cause his death or is likely to cause such harm on his body as would amount to grievous hurt within the meaning of section 320 of the Indian Penal Code (45 of 1860) solely on account of such drug being adulterated or spurious or not of standard quality, as the case may be, shall be punishable with imprisonment for a term which shall not be less than ten years but which may extend to imprisonment for life and shall also be liable to fine which shall not be less than ten lakh rupees or three times value of the drugs confiscated, whichever is more.”
The samples have been sent to government-run laboratory for testing. If the presence of chemical Diethylene glycol (DEG) is confirmed, Goyal will be facing criminal charges.
The manufacturing license of Digital Vision has been withdrawn and around 5,500 units of the drug have been recalled from eight states. But as the reports suggest, the manufacturer has a shoddy history of producing poor-quality drugs.
In a news report by The Wire, Dinesh Thakur, a public health activist was quoted saying that “Digital Vision’s long and dodgy history of producing NSQ (not of standard quality) drugs and that authorities had not taken any cognizance of whether manufacturing units were testing the raw materials before using them”.
The report also mentions that the “five batches of Digital Vision Pharma’s drugs that included drugs for diabetes and antibiotics, failed quality tests between 2014 and 2019. Thirteen batches of its drugs were labelled sub-standard in Gujarat and Maharashtra between 2011 and 2019.”