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Medicine shortage due to ephedrine scam

September 20, 2012

– File Photo
– File Photo

ISLAMABAD: This winter, the country would have to brace itself for shortages in cold and cough medications as the delay in allocation of ephedrine has hit the manufacturing side.

The federal government on Wednesday told Dawn that the lingering high-profile ephedrine scam had affected the timely quota allocation of the drug to local and multinational companies.

The ephedrine scam is one of the biggest political scandals in recent times and involves a son of former Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani and then federal health minister Makhdoom Shahbuddin.

“The government has finally released the much-needed ephedrine quota to national and multinational companies, so they can manufacture the necessary medications to cure winter illnesses,” a senior ranking official who was part of the meeting on the issue told Dawn.

According to the official, the ephedrine quota was released after scrutiny by the Anti-Narcotics Force (ANF).

“Earlier, the Ministry of Regulations and Services would look after quotas, but now the ANF is issuing the quota,” said Federal Minister Firdaus Ashiq Awan.

The minister observed: “The companies were using the ephedrine quota before as well but with the delay in allocations, the entire chain of production has been affected. Import of material will take at least two to three months, and the shortage of flu and cough medications is a concern for us.”

Minister Awan was of the view that ideally the ephedrine quota should have been issued in January this year to give companies time to meet the production of deadlines.

An industry expert said that ephedrine is a controlled chemical manufactured with the approval of the government, and is used in popularly prescribed brands such as Coughcole, Triaminic, Panadol, Sincos, Arenic and Telfast during winter.

When enquired about the quantity of ephedrine released by the government, the expert replied: “I have no clue about the quantity released to the companies.”

Meanwhile, when Dawn contacted ANF spokesman Col Akhtar Abbas, he said: “The quota has been issued as per the approval of a committee headed by the secretary of the Ministry of Narcotics Control.”

The members of the committee working for allocation of ephedrine quota are none other than representative of director-general of the ANF, joint secretary of the Ministry of Narcotics Control, joint secretary of Regulations and Services Division, and the chief executive officer of the Drug Regulatory Agency of Pakistan (DRAP).

“This time the quota has been allocated on merit after complete scrutiny by the ANF. Previously, the director general health of the defunct health ministry would allocate the quota without any monitoring which led to ephedrine scam,” he maintained.

The spokesman claimed that ANF’s job is to only allocate the quota since the head of the DRAP is the technical advisor to the committee.

“Our job is to scrutinise quota allocation and have complete observations as to how much and who is using it. The DRAP’s job is to give us a list of companies to whom we issued ephedrine on merit,” said Col Abbas.