Smuggling of life-saving medicines puts lives at stake

Smuggling of life-saving medicines puts lives at stake


Unnoticed smuggling to Afghanistan causes shortage of medicines in Lahore, a pharmacy official told

By Mahmood Idrees

Pakistan is currently in throes of economic crisis with dwindling foreign exchange reserves and unmanageable inflation taking a toll on the pockets of those living in reduced circumstances.

These are the lowdowns but there have been ‘arcane elements’ adversely affecting finances and health of people whose survival depends on life-saving drugs.

A day before dissolving the National Assembly, outgoing prime minister Shehbaz Sharif boasted his coalition government’s achievements – one of which was avoiding default on external payments. “We have saved the country from default, otherwise there was a shortage of life-saving drugs in the country,” he blew his own trumpet.

But the situation is otherwise as several medicines are unavailable to patients in the Punjab capital city of Lahore or they are being sold in the black market at exorbitant prices. Medicines used for treatment of epilepsy, bipolar disorder and various types of infections are missing from the market.

Another life-saving drug used by people, who have a liver, kidney, or heart transplant, is also unavailable.

Cyclosporine, which was available in the market with the name of Neoral and others, is advised by doctors to patients in order to prevent organ rejection in people who have received a transplant. The medicine is also used to treat severe cases of rheumatoid arthritis and plaque psoriasis.

The other medicine, which comes under the brand name of Tegral having “Carbamazepine,” has vanished in the Lahore market or is being sold in black.

Tegral tablet is used for the treatment of epilepsy, bipolar disorder, and trigeminal neuralgia. It works by reducing abnormal electrical activity in the brain.

Flygel injection, which is used for treatment of wide variety of infections, is also unreachable in the “heart of Pakistan”.

An epilepsy patient named Danish, who is a trader by profession and recently suffered a knife wound while chopping meat due to seizures occurred for not taking medicine Tegral timely, said the drug was not easily available at medical stores in Lahore.

“Sometimes I have to roam around the city for days to find a pack of it and even begged the owners of the medical stores for it,” he said.

“I hardly earn Rs1,500 to 2,500 a day with two days off for meat shops in a week,” he said while revealing once he had paid Rs3,000 to get a single pack, much higher than the actual retail price.

An attendant of a patient, who is under treatment for abdominal infection, said the doctor had advised flygel injection, used for IV, with other medicines for the treatment. “On Aug 6 and 7, flygel was easily available but from 8th it has vanished and I have to visit various stores in several areas of the metropolitan to buy it”.

A brief research revealed that there were no import restrictions on the salt used in the manufacturing of these medicines. But there are some disturbing reasons behind the shortage.

An official of a leading pharmacy chain in Lahore told Dunya News on the condition of anonymity that the companies, which are producing the medicine, have also run out of stock due to high demand. He revealed that the demand was increasing due to a hidden factor and this was “smuggling”.

He said various life-saving drugs were being smuggled to neighbouring Afghanistan under the nose of Customs and other authorities. He said there was a network behind it.

When asked how this network operates, he said owners of medical stores received messages on their mobile phones from anonymous numbers, offering higher prices of medicines the network wanted to smuggle. The unknown elements later purchased the full stock if the owner was lured by them, he explained how shortage of some medicine is intensifying in Lahore.

A medical practitioner said the government and the authorities concerned should remain vigilant as smuggling of life-saving drugs could cause catastrophic situation in the country.