After the ephedrine scam rocked the PPP government, another scandal involving the illegally allocated quota of a controlled substance used in decongestant syrups is likely to hit Pakistan’s pharmaceutical industry hard.
According to documents available with The Express Tribune, several pharmaceutical companies in 2009-10 were allotted more than the fixed quotas permitted for importing pseudoephedrine ---a chemical used in medicinal syrups for the treatment of nasal congestion and other cold-related symptoms. It is not given to children younger than the age of four, because the misuse of cough and cold medicines containing the drug, especially by children, can be fatal.
Branded under various names in the market, pseudoephedrine is sometimes used as a performance enhancing drug by professional athletes, and is a key ingredient in the preparation of the illegal drug methamphetamine — widely known as ‘crystal meth’ or simply ‘meth’.
While meth is not as common as heroin or other popular illicit drugs there is some evidence of a growing market for the drug in certain quarters.
In November last year, criminals were found to have been involved in the preparation of meth in Karachi, when a small explosion occurred in the makeshift lab they had set up in a DHA flat.
That the locally-made psycho-stimulant enjoys a healthy clientele among the country’s youth should send clear signals to the authorities about the dangers of pseudoephedrine.
The Anti-Narcotics Force (ANF) has launched an investigation into the scam, according to sources in the Islamabad Capital Territory Health Department.
However, it appears unlikely ANF will pursue the case against the multinational companies involved due to legal hitches and the drug enforcement agency’s limited jurisdiction, according to former Drug Regulatory Authority deputy director Sayyad Hussain Khan.
Khan, who has compiled a list of companies involved in the pseudoephedrine scam, also played a major role in preparing the ephedrine case.
According to the International Narcotics Control Board, 58,236kg of the drug was allocated for importing in 2009-10, against Pakistan’s quota of 48,000kg.
According to sources, the then-federal health secretary Khushnood Lashari and then-health director-general Rasheed Juma — both of whom were accused in the ephedrine case — influenced the quota allotment to the companies involved.
Among the larger allocations on Khan’s list, Abbott Laboratories was allotted 10,000kg of the drug, GlaxoSmithKline got 18,000kg, Adamjee Pharmaceuticals 1,000kg, Java Pharmaceuticals 1,500kg, and Merck 1,800kg.
Moreover, Pharmatec Pakistan was allocated 1,298kg, Global Pharmaceuticals 500kg and Saif Pharmaceuticals 1,250kg. The latter was also given 1,500kg of ephedrine in 2009-10. In addition, 5,000kg was allotted to Novartis, which was also implicated in the ephedrine case.
The ephedrine case rocked the previous government, tarnishing the reputation of former premier Yousuf Raza Gilani and his family and resulted in top health officials losing their jobs.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 1st, 2013.