There has been a sharp increase in use of tranquilizers as a deadly substitute for narcotics


By Syed M. Aslam
Aug 05 - 11, 2002

Abuse of prescription drugs among rich segment of the society has reached an alarming proportion in Pakistan due primarily to failure of the federal and provincial Health Ministries to enforce the relevant laws. According to informed market sources, who made the information available to the PAGE about the menace on condition of strict anonymity, there has been a sharp increase in use of tranquilizers as a deadly substitute for narcotics among the people in the upper levels of society.

In last five years the abuse of drug marketed by a number of pharmaceutical companies in the country under different brand names has increased drastically to such an extent that the supply now far exceeds its genuine demand. The drug, whose formula or generic name is Buprenorphine HCI, is used in the manufacture of injections is strictly a prescribed drug is tranquilizer and pain killer. However, it has find itself in increasingly demand by the youths, both boys and girls, belonging to richer segment of the society to be injected into the bodies as a narcotics.

Market sources informed PAGE that though the drug is also produced locally by a number of multinational and local pharmaceutical companies under various brand names, the brand imported by a single company Reckit & Benckiser (former Reckit and Colman) has emerged as the brand leader. "The company is allowed to import 400,000 boxes of Temgenic Injections annually though the demand for the same in the country does not exceed the 5 per cent of the quantity.

"As each box contains 5 ampoules of 1 ml injection each, the company is importing 2 million injections of Temgenic every year though the demand for the same in the country is only around 100,000. The fact that the drug is being greatly abused is evident from the fact that though the retail price of a box of 5 injections is Rs 212.96 it is selling in the market for around Rs 500. The main buyers of the drug are the youths mainly boys but also many girls."

While the multinational mentioned above is the only pharmaceutical company allowed to import the drug into the country many other multinational and local companies are also marketing the same formula under different names and they too are allowed to manufacture a quantity though only up to as low as half of that allowed to be imported by Reckit & Benckiser. The availability of the drug from all sources, thus, far exceeds its genuine demand in the country to pose a serious drug abuse problem among the younger generation.

Sources told PAGE that the formula is "also manufactured locally by Local company Sami as Buepron Injection, by PCW as Bueprogenic Injection, by another local company as Temfin Injection, by another local company as Gesnor Injection, by MNCs Organon as Orgesic Injection, by Pharmatec as Zonor Injection, etc. All of these brands are selling at a premium way over the retail prices. For instance, Zonor injection, produced locally by MNC Pharmatec is available in the market for around Rs 380.00 per 5 ampoules of 1 ml each way over its retail price of Rs 166.52."

Sources claimed that only about 5 per cent of the entire supply of the drug is used for genuine purposes while 20 per cent is being abused and the remaining 75 per cent is smuggled to neighbouring Afghanistan and Iran from where it sneaks into a number of European countries where there is an absolute ban on this drug. Thus the over supply of drug is not only resulting in increased abuse here in Pakistan but is also feeding it in Iran and Afghanistan and way beyond into Europe itself.

Needless to say, the over-supply highlights the fact that unscrupulous elements all along the shady path has find it fit to mint tonnes of money from a drug which is encouraging abuse among the youths far beyond the national borders. The over-supply in a country where over-the-counter drug culture has only increased over the years is posing a grave risk to the health, and ultimate lives, of hundreds of thousands of youth who have the means to afford to get hooked to the synthetic narcotics that suits their social status.

It is surprising to note that the habit-forming drug is easily available at the medical stores across the city in total disregard to the provincial law enacted in 1994 by the Sindh Assembly to keep track of all such drugs categorized as narcotics. The law made it binding for the manufacturers, distributors, wholesalers and retailers to maintain records about the drugs at all levels of the supply chain so as to ensure that it is sold only through prescription.

There has also been drastic increase in the abuse of other lesser priced tranquilizers (use narcotics) over the years, particularly among the middle class segment of the society. The formula Penthazocin is being manufactured by a number of companies locally and is available in the market only at a premium. For instance, Sosegon Injection, and also Tablets, marketed by pharmaceutical giant ICI is available in the market for around Rs 130.00 per 5 ampoules of 1ml each way above its retail price of Rs 105. Similarly, a 5-injection pack of Pentazegon made by local Indus Pharma is selling for Rs 80 compared to retail price of Rs 42.00 and Pentonil Injection marketed by local Tabbros company is available for Rs 75.00 instead of retail price of Rs 42.00.

The question is: Is this massive abuse of drugs is not visible to the Ministry of Health? Or is it the question of playing with the public health for the benefit of a small, but influential, group of unscrupulous elements in and around the industry.