Health

Drug Controller Creates Complaint Mechanism on Misuse of Oxytocin in Cattle

Although using the drug enables dairy and horticulture farmers to gain more profits, it puts both their livestock and consumers at great risk.

Oxytocin is a controversial hormonal drug which is given via intramuscular injection and used widely in the area of dairy, agriculture and horticulture. Credit: Reuters/Shailesh Andrade

Oxytocin is a controversial hormonal drug which is given via intramuscular injection and used widely in the area of dairy, agriculture and horticulture. Credit: Reuters/Shailesh Andrade

New Delhi: In a development that should bring some relief to cattle and humans alike, the Central Drugs Standard Control Organisation (CDSCO) has created a system to receive and monitor complaints on the misuse of Oxytocin. The system aims to have a stricter regulatory control over the manufacture, sale and distribution of the controversial hormone, in order to curb the illegal manufacture, import and use of it.

This decision was taken following a meeting held by the secretary of the Union health ministry on March 14. In the meeting, officers took stock of the manufacturing of Oxytocin and permitted the manufacturing of the drug in a public sector undertaking. This was done to be in compliance with a judgement from the Himachal Pradesh high court.

Oxytocin is a controversial hormonal drug given via intramuscular injection and used widely in the area of dairy, agriculture and horticulture. It increases milk production in dairy cows and the size of vegetables. But the drug lowers the life span of cows and makes them barren sooner. It also places humans at the risk of cancer and early puberty.

The CDSCO plans on receiving complaints at the zonal, sub-zonal and port offices, and will monitor it at the central level. The central office has asked all other offices to send a monthly report on this matter to the CDSCO.

Bad for humans and animals alike

Although using the drug enables dairy and horticulture farmers to gain more profits, it puts both their livestock as well as consumers at great risk. For the animal, the hormone makes milk flow faster but at great pain to the animal’s uterus. In humans, the drug filters through both vegetarian and non-vegetarian items. Through the consumption of milk, Oxytocin is responsible for predisposing babies to jaundice and reduces blood supply to the brain. It has also been held responsible for breast and uterine cancers, male impotence and early breast development.

Studies in Karnataka have shown that Oxytocin is being misused to speed deliveries for pregnant women in overcrowded government hospitals. This is concerning because, “In India this phenomenon has not been extensively studied, especially since the expansion of institutional deliveries.” The government has been incentivising institutional deliveries through schemes such as the Janani Suraksha Yojana.

This is a problem in neighbouring Pakistan as well, where a study found the unregulated usage of the drug responsible for maternal and neonatal mortality. The study notes that “A higher stillbirth rate was also observed with unregulated Oxytocin treatment among women.”

In its natural form, Oxytocin is taken from the animal’s posterior pituitary, but is also manufactured synthetically in bulk. According to Schedule H of the Drugs and Cosmetics Act, 1940, 536 drugs are called ‘prescription drugs’, with Oxytocin being one of them.

Legal regulations on Oxytocin

In 2014, the government banned the open retail of Oxytocin and restricted its sale to only to veterinary hospitals and to those with licenses to make drug formulations that involve Oxytocin. That year, women and child development minister Maneka Gandhi also wrote to the health secretary, taking up the issue of Oxytocin being fed to cows. It was the trigger for more attention within the CDSCO and the Drug Technical Advisory Board on the issue.

In 2016, the Himachal Pradesh high court passed orders in two different cases on the misuse of Oxytocin. In March 2016, the high court framed its own guidelines and asked the central government to take three months to establish an academy for training of all drug regulatory officers, drug testing facilities and a special task force to check other prohibited drugs like Oxytocin. In a separate case, the same court last year also passed orders in favour of the government’s stand on banning the retail of Oxytocin. This was in response to a petition by a wholesale chemist and druggist, who had challenged the government’s restrictions on the sale of Oxytocin.

The drug has not been banned completely, because it helps in “induction and augmentation of labour, to control post-partum bleeding and uterine hypo tonicity,” said the Himachal Pradesh high court. The order also said that it has “therapeutic application in case of expulsion of fetus, retention of placenta. However, that drug should be used strictly with the prescription of the veterinarian.”

The Drugs and Cosmetics Act explains the manner in which Oxytocin can be prescribed and the detailed records which need to be kept by registered medical practitioners, who are the only ones eligible to prescribe it. The records need to be maintained for three years. No advertisement can be made for Schedule H drugs without the sanction of the central government. The manufacture and sale of the drug without a license is a cognisable and non-bailable offence under the Drugs and Cosmetics Act. The drug is also regulated under the Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960, which prohibits the use of Oxytocin for extracting milk from milch animals.