- Published on Wednesday, 02 January 2013 13:51
This racket arises from a practice by some drug companies to sell certain products either exclusively to doctors or at much higher prices to pharmacies. PETALING JAYA: Unscrupulous doctors and clinic operators are making a fast buck by reselling to third parties brand-name drugs sold to them at preferential prices by pharmaceutical companies.
Because doctors are getting such drugs at much lower prices, some tend to order more than they dispense to their own patients, and sell off the excess to middlemen for a neat profit.
The middlemen or runners, who are usually former pharmaceutical tradesmen, will buy specific prescription medication from doctors to resell to pharmacies at profits as high as 20%.
End-users who buy such drugs from the pharmacies will end up paying more as the shops will also need to chalk up a profit.
Some of these drugs include medication for heart disease, high cholesterol, hypertension and diabetes.
A former chief pharmacist at a public hospital, who wished to be known only as Gan, alleged that the practice of drug companies selling drugs to doctors at lower prices has led to profiteering.
Gan said "excess" stock, bought by doctors at special discounts, often fall into the hands of middlemen, who then resell it to pharmacies.
Smaller, stand-alone pharmacies (community pharmacies) often buy from runners as the price is still lower than purchasing directly from the drug company.
"If these pharmacies buy only directly from the company, they will not be able to sell it to customers at a competitive price," he added.
He also lamented that community pharmacies which do not buy these "cheaper drugs" will be accused by their customers of overcharging.
Gan said the racket denies the public fair and equitable access to drugs, at more affordable prices, since prices of drugs, especially innovator (brand-name) drugs, vary widely.
"There needs to be a call for 'best price for all', and for drug companies to sell medicines at a standard price to everyone regardless of doctors, clinics or pharmacies.
"We need a 'watchdog' to put a stop to discriminatory inducement and such rackets," he said.
When contacted, Malaysian Medical Association (MMA) president Dr S.R. Manalan said there are bad apples in every profession and doctors are no exception.
"The drug companies are well aware of such practices, and there are unscrupulous doctors who sell to runners," he told theSun.
"However, the onus is on the drug companies to be vigilant as to whom and what amount of their drugs they sell. Drug makers should make doctors and clinics justify the amount they purchase," he said.
Asked if the MMA had taken any disciplinary action on such unscrupulous doctors, Manalan said it is extremely difficult to track down such transactions which are usually cash deals.
"We have brought the matter up to the health ministry, but it is hard to prove such practices. This is because a doctor in Kuala Lumpur who buys in bulk to sell to runners will not sell it back in KL, but perhaps to Johor," he said.
Meanwhile, a major player in the pharmaceutical manufacturing industry explained that often drug makers do not supply some medicines directly to pharmacies because they are wary of instances where pharmacies have dispensed drugs to end-users without prescriptions.
"The reality is, the liability lies with drug companies if there are ill-effects to their products being used without prescriptions," the source said.
He added that drug companies tend to "push" drugs to doctors – especially new, patented drugs – because it is the only way to "advertise" the drugs.
He pointed out that discriminatory pricing does not arise with generic medication which are patent-free, so pharmaceutical companies can sell them at a standard price to both doctors and pharmacies.
- Pauline Wong / theSun