Tainted drugs: Efroze Chemicals shut down for 14 days as govt issues advisory

KARACHI: With the death toll in the Punjab due to contaminated medicines still on the rise the Sindh health department issued a notification alerting for certain suspected medicines to be removed from all public sector hospitals.

Clear instructions with the names of medicines, their dosage and batch numbers were issued after a meeting which was headed by Health Minister Dr Sagheer Ahmed on Wednesday.The Express Tribune has learnt that some private hospitals have also issued internal communications advising practitioners not to prescribe certain medications. These private hospitals include Tabba Heart Institute.

Earlier in the day, the first decisive action in Karachi against chemical and pharmaceutical companies was taken as the FIA suspended the operations of Efroze Chemical Industries Private Limited in Korangi. Under the Drugs Act 1976, production has been suspended for 14 days and 49 kilogrammes of raw materials for the heart medication IsoTab were seized. The company is being investigated for sending tainted medication with high quantities of the anti-malarial, pyrimethamine, to the Punjab Institute of Cardiology (PIC) while one batch was sent to the Punjab Employees Social Security Hospital (PESSH).

About 9.2 million tablets or 23 batches of IsoTab produced by Efroze Chemicals were seized. Twenty-two batches of the medicine were supplied to the PIC while one batch was sent to PESSH, federal drug inspector Dr Shahid Hussain told The Express Tribune.Crime Circle Deputy Director Akbar Baloch said several samples including IsoTab 20mg were sent to the Central Drug Testing Laboratory for verification on January 25 and 26. The Central Drug Lab is testing for the dosage of pyrimethamine in Isotab, after test results sent by the Punjab government to a laboratory in London were announced. The results for the tests from the Central Drug Lab are still awaited.

Speaking to the media after a few hours inside the factory on Wednesday, the Crime Circle’s Akbar Baloch said, “The raw materials and reports have been seized so that they cannot be tampered with.”At the time when the FIA arrived at the factory, the senior most company representative present was senior executive supply chain manager Sabah Mohiuddin. In visible shock after FIA officials announced the 14-day lock-down Mohiuddin said, “The factory has not been sealed but production has been halted for now.” Close to 5pm, employees, most of who are on daily wages, quietly left the premises.

No arrests have been made yet as the drug inspectors first need to complete their tests and if they file a complaint report, the FIA will take action accordingly. “Arrests can only be made once the investigation is complete and the Central Drug Laboratory tests are available,” Baloch added.Federal drug inspector Abdul Rasool Sheikh said, “Some return samples have been also taken and will be sent for testing.”

However, as an FIR was lodged in Punjab against the company, Baloch confirms that the director and CEO of Efroze Chemicals, Abdullah Feroz, and director for marketing and sales, Nadir Khan Firoz, as well as the director for technical operations, Khurram Munaf, have been put on the Exit Control List. “The interior ministry has also added Mr Mumtaz, Mr Shafi and Mr Sultan on the ECL,” Baloch said.

Speaking to Express News, Abdullah Feroz said he suspected foul play in order to malign the company. According to Feroz, the large quantities of pyrimethamine were stolen from the company in September. No FIR was filed over the incident.The events unfolded as a follow-up to Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif’s press conference where he announced Efroze Chemicals had been sealed. Journalists were surprised to discover, however, that work was progressing as usual on Wednesday.

Associate professor for Cardiology at Aga Khan University Hospital, Dr Khawar Kazmi says Efroze Chemicals is just one of the companies making the medicine Isotab. There are other brands as well. According to Kazmi, the problem is not with the actual molecule but only a particular company due to what he believes is a lack of quality control. However, he urges for other brands to be checked as well.

“This event was inevitable. If it hadn’t happened now it would have certainly led to more problems.”Cardiac surgeon at Tabba Heart Institute Dr Khalid Rasheed says IsoTab is “readily available and frequently prescribed”. However, there are many other options which may be used so there is no need for patients to panic. – Thetribune