The supply of a drug called ‘Oxytocin’ is currently undergoing a drastic change in India. As a naturally occurring hormone, Oxytocin plays an important role in social and sexual bonding, hence called the ‘Love Hormone’. But as medication – it is officially (and widely) used to smoothen deliveries in pregnant women and to make it breastfeeding newborns easier.
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childbirth, is also widely misused, which is why, in April 2018, India’s Health Ministry issued a notification to ban the import and regulate the sale and production of Oxytocin and its variants.
India’s medical and pharmaceutical industry is fighting this ban tooth and nail. They believe it puts a large portion of the Indian population, especially women from low-income groups, at risk. Meanwhile, the government – believing that the benefits of the ban outweigh the costs – is incessantly maintaining that the ban is irrevocable.
Here are both sides of the argument, to help you decide where do you stand?
For The Ban #1: It’s detrimental to dairy-producing cattle
The proposal to implement the ban cited the abuse of Oxytocin by dairy farmers, as it’s the main reason. Farmers illegally inject cattle with the drug to increase milk production. If the average cow produces 2 liters of milk per day naturally, a cow injected with Oxytocin produces 4 liters. The drug sends the cows into labour for about two hours a day during which their milk production is increased.
This is of course, done purely for profit. The average farmer only makes Rs. 10/litre of milk. Therefore, to increase his profits, he’d have to increase his sales. That is why, even though every year over 9 lakh litres of surplus milk is thrown out – farmers are constantly trying to increase production.
But this often backfires. Cows get accustomed to the hormone and start producing lesser and lesser milk over time, which only increases their need for more Oxytocin. The drug causes hormonal imbalances in cattle leading to shorter fertility periods and life cycles. Plus, research conducted by Mid-Day in 2013 showed that the not only does hormone cause immense pain in the cow’s uterus but also extracting the milk in this manner deprives the calves of nutrition. Maternal antibodies present in the milk are responsible for making the calves immune to several diseases. Being denied the milk weakens their chances of survival as well.
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For The Ban #2: It’s also detrimental to humans
Many studies show that Oxytocin from the cow’s bloodline gets deposited in the milk, which is harmful to human health. It can cause nausea, cramping, infertility and in some cases psychological imbalances. In fact, studies have shown that over 60% people in India are lactose intolerant because their bodies cannot absorb the excess oxytocin. Apart from milk, the hormone is also used to increase the size of vegetables such as pumpkins, watermelons, brinjals, gourds and cucumbers. When consumed over a long period of time, this can cause Over time, misuse and overuse causes symptoms of dizziness, nausea, early puberty, mood swings, erratic heart rate and foetal damage, among others.
Against The Ban #1: The above ‘For’ points #1 and #2 are false
On the flipside, there are also researches that say that Oxytocin has no side effects on animal health. A study by the National Dairy Research Institute (NDRI) shows that Oxytocin in blood has a lifespan of only 2 to 2.5 minutes and hence cannot have any negative effects on cattle or human health. And that the ill effects of Oxytocin are simply people’s perception towards the drug, that has no scientific backing.
For the Ban #3: It perpetuates flesh trade
Since one of the side effects of Oxytocin is early puberty, the hormone is widely misused in India’s illegal flesh trade market. Girls as young as 10 years old are injected with the hormone, to make them look like they’re 19-20 year-olds. They are then either trafficked to the Gulf with fake documents (passport, IDs) or forced into child prostitution. Hundreds of girls between 6 months to 10 years of age are kidnapped daily and administered the drug directly or through food. This has become such a common practice in India, that states like Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan have multiple pan shops and tea stalls along the highways, with registers of girls to be sold off to truck drivers for a night. Moreover, even the local police deny the prevalence of prostitution in the states or the use of Oxytocin of trafficked girls. Brothels have special alliances with the police, which ensure speedy delivery of girls into the business.
With an 8% increase in flesh trade, today India has become one of the prominent names in child prostitution. Which only makes it more imperative to ban the drug and regulate its domestic use. Because if even non-medical retail stores are stocking Oxytocin, then how can we ever control child prostitution.
Against The Ban #2: It would lead to a rise in Maternal Mortality Rates
Oxytocin has had a major impact on India’s maternal mortality rate (MMR). In recent years, India has turned its focus on bringing down its MMR and has succeeded to a large extent. The MMR has come down from 167 in 2011-13 to 130 in 2014-16 (a 22% drop). This is because Oxytocin is frequently used in hospitals during childbirth. As we know, the hormone, when injected, contracts the vagina and induces labour. This enables smoother delivery, especially for women with obstetric issues, like full breach or multiple pregnancies. But it is being highly misused, sending women into premature labour. Studies by the National Institute of Health in Karnataka showed that Oxytocin was being administered to speed deliveries for pregnant women in overcrowded government hospitals.
So you can imagine, that in the absence of the drug, what will doctors do to speed delivery. Their only option is to conduct a cesarean, which is a much risky procedure than normal delivery, and is also pretty expensive (over Rs 40,000) for low-income families to bear.
This is why, the country’s largest body of doctors – the Indian Medical Association (IMA) – is waging its own war to get the ban revoked, or to at least ensure an adequate supply of the drug. Repeated meetings have taken place between doctors and the Health Ministry to at least authorise more manufacturers to produce the drug.
For The Ban #4: It is a widely ‘abused’ drug
The drug can alter your memories, overcome fear, help you bond with your partner, and inculcate trust among friends. Oxytocin is thus, abused domestically because it helps deal with emotional issues better. For example, those with dark childhood memories or issues with their father or mother, use the drug to change their memories. It helps them overcome the anger and pain associated with certain events or people by forgetting the issue as a whole. So when it comes to dealing with difficult people at work, trust issues with your boyfriend or repairing your marriage, the drug will do it all.
Oxytocin has been repeatedly used in legal psychological experiments in India to cure Autism or Schizophrenia, but with its increasing popularity, people use it at home, unadvised. It’s like the modern day LSD. In fact, researches have shown that millennials are using the hormone before going on dates to help them fall in love. So much so that Oxytocin products are being marketed on the internet as pills and sprays to increase trust and cure stress.
Against The Ban #3: Regulating Oxytocin will lower its supply and hike its price
The ban also restricts the domestic production of the drug to only one PSU because it believes that factories produce the drug in bulk and sell them to small retailers without sale receipts. Hence, only KAPL, a Karnataka based PSU would be authorized to produce enough oxytocin for the whole country.
The fact that there is going to be only one producer in India has confused doctors. The current monthly requirement for the drug is 2.5 million ampoules whereas KAPL has only 1.8 million in production. This means it’ll have to raise its production by 0.7 million ampoules by 1st September. Plus, the company doesn’t even have distributors in as many as 19 states. So will the government ensure distribution is these states?
Lack of supply is the only most obvious effect of this ban. Even if there wasn’t a shortage, there will be other problems too. For example, with the tightened norms, hospitals are expected to face more paperwork. This might delay their procurement process even further. For most gynaecologists, the easiest substitute for oxytocin would be misoprostol which may set one back by more than Rs. 500. For many, especially in rural regions, this might be unaffordable.
Plus, KAPL too is planning to sell the drug at a higher price of Rs 17.5 as compared to Rs 10 earlier. This will not only be expensive for patients in private hospitals but will also increase the State governments’ expenses in public hospitals.
Against The Ban #4: It’ll augment the Oxytocin Black Market
Finally, as the supply of oxytocin gradually reduces, the presence of a Oxytocin black market will widen. Government reports suggest that large amounts of Oxytocin are being smuggled into India from China by a mafia headquartered in Kolkata and Mumbai. The smuggled drug is then sold via multiple middlemen to small retail chemists in cities and villages. From there it is conveniently sold over the counter without sale receipts of buyer details. For example, recently a racket was busted Alwar, Rajasthan, almost every chemist shop has bottles of Oxytocin stocked, even though there is no cattle rearing being done there.
Considering that an Oxytocin black market exists even without a ban, it is very likely that the situation will only get worse when the ban is implemented.
The ban was to come into effect from 1st September but has been later extended to 1st October. This is because several PILs were filed with the Delhi High Court asking to either extend the deadline or repeal the proposal altogether. But the government is adamant. Its primary reason for the proposed ban is the misuse of the drug on humans and livestock. The Tamil Nadu government challenged the ban, saying the misuse of the drug in the dairy industry is not the health department’s concern, but the responsibility of the animal husbandry department and drug regulators. Interestingly, the Drug Technical Advisory Board (DTAB) recommended to the Health Ministry earlier this month that the proposed ban be dropped from plans, bringing relief to doctors. But that too received a lot of flak from proponents of the ban.
Now that you have all the facts, tell us where you can’t on this topic in the comments below.