Rough estimates suggest that more than half of all medicines sold in Pakistan are supplied without a prescription. These largely include analgesics, antibiotics, antihistamines, antipyretics, anti-diarrheal drugs, cough syrups, tonics, and vitamins that are readily available from community pharmacies with no strings attached. As quotidian as the affair may seem it doesn’t discount the fact that under the Drug Act 1978, it is illegal to sell medicines without a doctor’s prescription.
By law, relevant drug inspectors are responsible for ensuring the drug license of local pharmacies, which also means ensuring that drugs, especially antibiotics, antidepressants, sedatives, and tranquilisers are not being supplied to anyone sans prescription.
Medical experts believe that continued access to all kinds of drugs without prescription has encouraged a dangerous culture of self-medication in cities like Karachi, while freely guzzling stimulants and mood-altering drugs to increase productivity has also become increasingly common among local teens.
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Experts also fear that unregulated access to drugs has gotten many bodybuilders and sportsmen hooked on steroids, supplements, and performanceenhancing drugs such as amphetamines, all of which can lead to long-term health risks. According to Musa Khan, who is a local gym trainer in Karachi, almost 70 per cent of bodybuilders rely on steroids and amphetamines to reach their peak physique.
“There is a lot of competition in the bodybuilding community, so everyone wants to be the biggest guy at the gym but few are ready to invest the time, energy, and dedication it requires. Steroids are the cheat sheet here, but people don’t realise how dangerous they can be for one’s reproductive health with side effects like erectile dysfunction, shrunken testicles, and reduced sperm count. Amphetamines on the other hand are a sort of performance enhancer; taken to prevent fatigue and to increase confidence and training intensity, but they are considered highly addictive, and unregulated dosing can pose various physical and psychological risks,” he explained.
When the matter was brought to the attention of Sindh Health Department’s Director-General (DG) Dr Juman, he said that certain drugs like paracetamol and cold and flu medication can be bought over-the-counter. However, he reiterated that the aforementioned drugs such as amphetamines, antidepressants, sedatives, antibiotics and protein, and other supplements can only be bought through a valid doctor’s prescription.
“Anyone who is involved in buying or selling such medication without a prescription is indulging in unlawful activity per the regulations of Drug Act 1978 and is liable to be punished by the law. It is the responsibility of the relevant drug inspector that all such activity is monitored and duly reprimanded,” the Health DG told The Express Tribune.
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