Painkiller biz grows at 20 percent, pharma industry at 14 percentPainkillers may help relieve pain, but as with most things, too much of the drugs is bad for health. Some learn it the hard way.

Painkiller biz grows at 20 percent, pharma industry at 14 percentLike this Mumbai resident who kept popping aspirins at the drop of a hat, then be it for mild headaches or stomach aches, for at least 10 years. Keshav Mohan (name changed), who works with the general post office, was content with the relief the drug provided and never bothered to approach a physician.

Last month, the 55-year-old Mohan had to be put on dialysis (artificial replacement for lost function) due to the damage the painkiller caused his kidneys.

There are scores of people in the country, who, like Mohan, pop painkillers indiscriminately, not so much on prescription as out of habit.

Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as aspirin, ibuprofen, ketoprofen, naproxen and diclofenac are commonly taken, helped by the fact that these drugs are sold over the counter (OTC).

The US Food & Drugs Administration has issued strong warnings against irrational use of these drugs, saying it can increase risks of liver damage and stomach bleeding.

Still, NSAIDs are growing at a whopping 20% annually in India, well over the 14% overall growth rate for the local pharmaceutical industry.

Indeed, going by a Mumbai-based pharma analyst, NSAIDs are a Rs 3,000 crore market already. The growth of this class of drugs has been phenomenal due to people's tendency to consume them without checking what side effects they have and whether they are suited for a particular person, says the analyst.

Arun Prasad, senior surgeon at Apollo Hospitals in New Delhi, says consumers take NSAIDs for every type of pain, from mild headaches, stomach aches to joint pain, body ache, etc. "These drugs are to be used for inflammation, but in a limited way and under supervision," says Prasad.

NSAIDs are habit-forming drugs, too, says gynaecologist Nikita Trehan, director, Trinity Healthcare in New Delhi."NSAIDs can also cause stomach ulcers and in children, Reye's syndrome, which affects liver and brain."
"NSAIDs can also cause stomach ulcers and in children, Reye's syndrome, which affects liver and brain."

Vipulroy Rathod, chairman and managing director of Endoscopy Asia, an endoscopy facility in Mumbai, says he gets at least two patients with massive stomach bleeding due to overuse of NSAIDs every week.

Experts rue the lack of adequate warnings on the drugs' side effects from the Drugs Controller General of India.