Having had the opportunity in the past to assist the Supreme Court as a pharmaceutical expert (amicus curiae) in a case involving counterfeit medicines, I have noticed that the Honorable Judges appreciate the public health issues involved and are very keen to resolve issues facing pharmaceutical sector. Perhaps this is the best the time in the country’s history to bring to light how health and narcotics control authorities at the federal and provincial level in successive governments have provided legal cover under which the narcotics and pharma industry have been working together since ages. Perhaps it is time the Supreme Court investigated why in the last twenty years has there been such a massive increase in issuing licenses of pharma manufacturing in the country when many of them would never set up a factory, never went into production or could not operate for more than one 8-hour shift in a day and still make so much profit that their business enterprises kept expanding.
Complications in an otherwise simple situation start to arise when we consider that narcotics have been used as medicines and as raw materials for making both medicines as well as narcotics since time immemorial. Pharma companies, hakims, ayurveds and apothecaries have since long been creating concoctions of narcotics to relieve coughs, colds and pain as well as for aphrodisiac and recreational purposes. It is only in the more recent times that there has been colossal amount of production and trade of narcotics across the world, with links to terrorist outfits and mafias, that the need for induction of national and global regimes of regulation and control became necessary. However, it is exploitation of the grey area between legal and illegal drugs due to which the flow of huge sums of money continues to reach illicit traders and manufacturers.
Now the “quotas” business is about issuing permits for import of raw materials used for both pharmaceutical as well as narcotics industry, which in our case have been going on unabated in by the authorities in excess by many thousand times to the domestic medicinal needs. Most of the chemical raw materials for narcotics would end up with narcotics manufacturers in Afghanistan and tribal belt bringing home huge funds for the Pakistani pseudo pharma manufacturers without ever having to do any manufacturing themselves. The profits from trading of narcotics manufacturing in Afghanistan and FATA are instrumental in supporting the Taliban as between 40 and 60 per cent of its income comes from this trade.
Exhibit 2: List of narcotic medicines Though the law stipulates use and availability of the following narcotics to be highly restrictive for medicinal use, many of them are available freely at the leading whole sale pharma markets in Pakistan. A visit to the two of the biggest ones in Lohari Gate, Lahore and Katchi Galli, Karachi would be most instructive. A few years ago when I was visiting these markets for research I saw customers, young and old, shopping some of them freely from the small, dingy and dirty shops in the narrow convoluted alleys which Lohari and Katchi Galli markets are known for. I also bought a bag full of different brands for confirmatory purpose. There was clearly no regulation of sales and the products also looked shoddy even on cursory physical examination.
Though my Pakistani compatriots don’t like comparisons with India, especially in cases where India would look better, a comparison in this case would be most relevant and illuminating. Unlike the Pakistani pharmas Indian companies accrue large profits by exporting legally produced narcotics; these profits are then ploughed back into the country’s economy rather than being used to arm warlords. One good example of such a company is CIPLA (The Chemical, Industrial and Pharmaceutical Laboratories); established in 1935, CIPLA is now one of India’s largest narcotics manufactures competing with the finest pharmas from the West.
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