2012 Pakistan fake medicine crisis

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During late January 2012, a fake medicine crisis at the Punjab Institute of Cardiology (PIC) hospital in the Lahore region of Punjab, Pakistan, claimed the lives of over 100 heart patients. According to various reports, the incident involved patients who had been receiving treatment at the hospital and had been prescribed with counterfeit antihypertensive medicines.[1] The spurious medicine(s) triggered a serious adverse reaction by depositing itself in the bone marrow and ending the body's resistance. The generation of white blood cells stopped in the body. Among the symptoms of the disease were a severe chest infection, change in skin colour/pigmentation, low platelet count and blood vomiting.[2]

Suspect drugs include Isotab (isosorbide mononitrate), Lipitor (atorvastatin calcium), Cardiovestin (simvastatin), Alfagril (clopidogrel), Concort (amlodipine), and Soloprin (aspirin).

The medicines were being distributed by the hospital free of charge mainly to poor people. The total number of people who may be at risk after taking medicine from the hospital may be as high as 46,000 according to one report.[3]


In mid-January 2012, several cardiac patients registered with the Punjab Institute of Cardiology (PIC) started showing up at different public and private hospitals in Lahore suffering from a sudden drop in platelets and white blood cells and bleeding from different parts of the body. The doctors initially took the symptoms as that of dengue outbreak that had hit the city in the last Fall. However, it was soon realized that the symptoms were seen in a PIC cohort and were more consistent of a drug reaction. As a result, the Department of Health constituted a high-powered committee to probe the incident.


Almost all victims were from the Lahore area. One fatality was also recorded in Multan.[4] The Chief Minister of Punjab Shahbaz Sharif vowed "stern action" against those responsible and announced a compensation of Rs. 500,000 each for the victims' families.[3] The Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) formed an investigation team to probe the incident on the orders of Minister for Interior Rehman Malik.[5] The team arrested some people reportedly involved in the distribution of the medicine. Cases were also registered against three pharmaceutical companies who made the medicine.[1][2]

Investigations revealed that the licence in one of the three pharmaceutical laboratories which supplied the contaminated drugs to the PIC had long expired in April 2011. Despite this, the company continued to manufacture the drugs in bulk and supplied them to government hospitals and open markets.[6] As the death toll exceeded one hundred, the Lahore High Court ordered respondents involved in the case to file their replies by the 30th of January.[7]

Tests performed by the British Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) in the United Kingdom indicated that one of the five suspected drugs - Isotab - was contaminated. The report also showed that Isotab contained pyrimethamine which is in fact used for the treatment of malaria. The presence of pyrimethamine proved to be toxic.[8] Tests done at the Central Drugs Laboratory in Karachi also verified the presence of pyrimethamine used in certain combinations to treat malaria in a sample of the Isotab tablet (20 mg). The laboratory also declared a batch of Alfagril as substandard.[9]

The FIA, while seizing raw material from a Karachi-based factory of Efroze Chemical Industries. The FIA also put names of owners on the Exit Control List (ECL) besides blocking the official website of Efroze Chemicals. The sealed factory was located in Korangi Industrial Area, Karachi.[10]

The Pakistan Medical Association (PMA) condemned that a lapse in quality control while acquiring medicines was the main reason for the deaths caused by drug reaction and has demanded the federal and provincial governments to establish a drug regulatory authority.

International reaction[edit]

Following the incident, Sri Lanka banned its import of medicines from Pakistan as a precautionary measure.[11] Moreover, the World Health Organisation issued a global drug safety alert (no.125) calling for increased vigilance on the use of isotab manufactured by Efroze Chemicals.[12]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "About 100 people have died from spurious antihypertensives in Lahore". Thenews.com.pk. 2012-01-24. Retrieved 2012-01-31.
  2. ^ a b Desk, Web (2012-01-26). "Fake medicine: Unofficial death toll reaches 112 – The Express Tribune". Tribune.com.pk. Retrieved 2012-01-31.
  3. ^ a b Usman, Ali. "PIC free medicine: As deaths soar past 80, authorities remained clueless – The Express Tribune". Tribune.com.pk. Retrieved 2012-01-31.
  4. ^ Jaffery, Owais. "Free medicine: Multan sees first fatality from contaminated drugs – The Express Tribune". Tribune.com.pk. Retrieved 2012-01-31.
  5. ^ Usman, Ali. "Free medicine saga: Malik directs FIA to investigate – The Express Tribune". Tribune.com.pk. Retrieved 2012-01-31.
  6. ^ Kharal, Asad (2012-01-26). "Free medicine disaster: Lab with expired licence supplied PIC – The Express Tribune". Tribune.com.pk. Retrieved 2012-01-31.
  7. ^ Desk, Web (2012-01-26). "Free medicine: LHC orders respondents to file reply by January 30 – The Express Tribune". Tribune.com.pk. Retrieved 2012-01-31.
  8. ^ "Tests in UK identify drug which caused havoc in Lahore | Newspaper". Dawn.Com. Retrieved 2012-02-04.
  9. ^ "CDL tests also find Isotab adulterated | Newspaper". Dawn.Com. Retrieved 2012-02-04.
  10. ^ "Isotab Contamination with pyrimethamine issu: FIA seals three firms manufacturing deadly Isotab – PakMed Info Forum". Pakmed.net. 2012-01-31. Retrieved 2012-02-04.
  11. ^ Wasif, Sehrish (2012-01-31). "Sri Lanka bans import of Pakistani medicines – The Express Tribune". Tribune.com.pk. Retrieved 2012-02-04.
  12. ^ "WHO bans Pakistani medicine Isotab". The News Tribe. Retrieved 2012-02-04.