Pharmas attacked over pills

The city police have seized 42,400 tablets so far this year from 58 suspects, who were arrested for illegal possession of prescription tablets. The numbers by themselves are alarming when you compare it with the tablets seized just six years ago in 2017 – zero. DT Next reports.
In the past year, city police have arrested suspects from as far as Hyderabad and Kolkatta for supplying medicines to peddlers here.
In the past year, city police have arrested suspects from as far as Hyderabad and Kolkatta for supplying medicines to peddlers here. Illustration by Saai

CHENNAI: “Tablets and medicines should be sold in pharmacies, not in cemeteries,” laments a senior police officer, speaking about the recent menace facing law enforcement.

He was referring to an arrest made by the police in December 2021, where three youngsters were caught with 300 Nitravet (sleeping pill) and 200 Tydol (painkiller) tablets at a cemetery in Washermanpet.

The shady corners, abandoned plots, secluded stretches in and around the city now also witness the sale of tablets. The usage of prescription drugs – sleeping pills and pain killers – to get high is not a novel attempt by drug addicts, but the rise in their usage in recent times has kept the authorities on toes.

Police said that it’s the peddlers who have created a market for these tablets. “As screws have been tightened on smuggling and peddling of ganja, peddlers are pushing these tablets as an alternative. We’re relentless anyway and have made several arrests and seizures in the past one year,” said Shankar Jiwal, Commissioner of Police, Chennai.

Recently, on September 1, Velachery police arrested five persons and seized 4,400 Tydol tablets from them. So much is the desperation among addicts that, in recent times, there have been incidents of pharmacy break-ins to steal the tablets.

“In the city suburbs, especially Medavakkam, there were two break-ins at medical shops. Miscreants did not touch the currency; they just took the tablets,” said KK Selvam, secretary, TN Chemists and Druggists Association (TNCDA). “There are about 40,000 pharmacies in TN. All have been instructed to work closely with the authorities to check this menace.”

Instances of desperate youth assaulting pharmacy owners who refuse the tablets have also been reported, according to members of the association. Last month, a pharmacy owner in Kudavasal, Tiruvarur, had written to the police inspector seeking protection after two youths assaulted him for not giving them sleeping pills without a prescription.

Medical professionals said that these tablets give users a sense of euphori, which can be addictive. “Overdose of Tydol leads to renal failure,” said Dr S Viveganandan, Government Omandurar multi-speciality hospital.

In the past year, city police have arrested suspects from as far as Hyderabad and Kolkatta for supplying medicines to peddlers here. “Since couriers are an easy way to send medicine, many peddlers are using that route to procure medicines from other States,” said a police officer.

Pharmacists also recall shoddily photoshopped prescriptions by youngsters. “I once received a prescription, through WhatsApp, in which the doctor did a MPhil after MBBS,” quipped S Gokul, who runs a pharmacy in Nanganallur.

Lack of evidence frees suspects in 2016-hijack case

In 2016, a Chennai-based gang had hijacked a container truck from a Ranipet-based pharma company containing 1,500 kg of ephedrine hydrochloride meant for export, in 2016, by posing as policemen. The raw material is used in the production of asthma medicines.

The gang had hijacked the truck to use it to manufacture meth tablets. The value of consignment was worth Rs 4.3 crore.

While Chennai police arrested 14 persons including a police constable, M Prakash and an employee of government printing press, S Amulraj in connection with the truck hijack and managed to recover majority of the stolen consignment, all the accused involved in the case were recently acquitted by a special court for cases under the NDPS (Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances) act.

According to court documents, the main accused, Pulikulam Babu, who masterminded the heist and another suspect, Jegan, died during the trial period. On May 25, 2016, Babu’s gang had hijacked the truck on Ennore Express Road near Tiruvottiyur.

Occupants in the truck were kidnapped in an SUV and let off on a bypass road after which they informed their higher-ups. The truck was taken to a warehouse in Perambakkam, from where the contents inside the container were stolen.

After perusing submissions by the prosecution, the court noted that the prosecution had not submitted any evidence that directly linked the suspects with the crime.

“When there is no direct evidence to offer, the prosecution is resting its case on extra-judicial confession, which was recorded 3 months after the occurrence,” noted Juliet Pushpa, special judge and acquitted the suspects arrested by the Tiruvottiyur police.

In the wake of increasing seizures of scheduled drugs, Chennai Police’s top brass held a meeting with the representatives of pharmacies and courier firms at the Chennai Commissioner’s office on September 7 after which an advisory was issued.

Police Advisory to Pharmacy Owners

  • Instruct staff to not sell painkillers, sleeping pills without prescription.

  • Stick posters outside shops stating that medicines will not be sold without prescription.

  • Maintain proper records of the number of painkillers, sleeping pills in storage.

  • Install CCTV cameras inside and outside medical shops.

  • Sleeping pills should not be given to minors even if they provide a prescription.

  • Provide contact information of the local police station outside the pharmacy for public to inform about suspicious activities.

  • If youngsters cause trouble asking for painkillers or any other pills, immediately inform the local police station.

Police Advisory to Courier/ Parcel Firms

  • Ensure address and other details of sender and receiver are correct before accepting the booking.

  • Accept bookings after verifying contents of the parcel and relevant documents.

  • In interstate and international bookings, details of the sender with photo is a must before you accept booking.

  • Create infrastructure to store such data for at least five years and provide information to police, when needed.

  • Install a scanner to detect if any banned substances are being sent through parcel services.

  • CCTV cameras must in all warehouses of courier/parcel firms, with a storage capacity of 60 days.

  • In case of suspicion about a parcel, inform the nearest police station.

  • Provide necessary training to staff to ensure that all guidelines are adhered to.

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