Pharmdog Millionaires?

Pardon the title, but on the heels of last night's Oscar best picture victory by Slumdog Millionaire, it's helpful to remind ourselves of the huge influence that the pharmaceutical industry, both Indian domestic and pharma worldwide, is having upon India, its economy . . . and unfortunately on its environment. Recent studies have shown that drug manufacturers in the Patancheru region near Hyderabad are contaminating local rivers and, particularly in the case of antibiotics, compromising the bacterial resistance and general health and well-being of citizens in that area.

I had a chance to visit with the Land Institute's Stan Cox (Salina, Kansas), fresh off a visit to India, about the problems there. The number one problem, he says, is "the huge and growing production in response to both domestic and foreign demand, and the 90 or so facilities produce much more effluent than the system can handle properly." There are limits regarding daily production on each facility, but Cox says that local drug manufacturers regularly overproduce, are rarely fined, and if fined are charged "peanuts" compared to what they're making.

Who are these companies in Patancheru? "I think they are all majority Indian ownership, but as you know, there are now extensive agreements between Indian and Western companies for production of a wide range of products." In other words, the entire industry is involved to some degree and it is a problem whose solution should not be blamed on Indian companies alone, nor left up to Indian authorities alone.

What's the concern? "The greatest concern with Cipro and other antibiotics is over the potential for selecting drug-resistant bacteria," Cox says. "The effluent from the treatment plant would seem almost ideal for doing that, because it contains those very high concentrations of antibiotics mixed with human wastes.  The water coming out of that pipe has been through treatment, but I can tell you it's not clean. It's dark brown and foamy and stinks of both sewage and chemicals."

Stay tuned for my full interview with Cox and more on this story. . .