Pakistan's ephedrine scandal takes on international intrigue

An investigation into whether two drug manufacturing companies in Pakistan turned ephedrine allocations into street drugs may be taking on an international aspect. That suggestion comes even as more government officials are swept up in the probe and fallout is making it difficult for companies to get their hands on needed ingredients. 

Former federal drug controller Sheikh Ansar Ahmed was arrested last week by the country's Anti-Narcotics Force (ANF), reports The Express Tribune. He is being questioned about ties to Berlex Lab International of Multan and Danas Pharmaceutical of Islamabad, which are at the heart of the probe. The two companies allegedly got an increased quota of the substance to export to Iraq and Afghanistan but then diverted it to domestic production. They allegedly faked records on how it was being used and allegations the substance ended up in street drugs worth millions of dollars.

Separately, the website Dawn, citing sources, claims that The International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) is going to Pakistan to investigate. The INCB oversees quotas of controlled drugs internationally. The story claims that the agency has warned the ANF that ephedrine was being smuggled into Iran, and that Europe has been put on alert to watch for an influx of illegal drugs, like Ecstasy, as a result. The INCB may also be looking into the fact that while the INCB had allotted Pakistan 22,000 kg of ephedrine for 2010, the Health Ministry that year allocated nearly 31,000 kg.

Ali Musa Gilani, son of Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani, has also been questioned about using influence on the Health Ministry to up the quota, but he has denied any involvement.

The scandal is also believed tied to a bureaucratic fight over what agency should have authority over raw drug ingredients in the country, a fight that is affecting Western companies and domestic producers alike. Last month, the American Business Council, which represents 65 American drug manufacturers in Pakistan, warned authorities that if the matter is not sorted out soon, Pakistan could face shortages of more than 800 drugs. The ABC said its three largest clients, Pfizer Pakistan ($PFE), Johnson & Johnson ($JNJ) and Abbott Laboratories ($ABT), are already being affected by the supply chain disruptions. The organization played the economic development trump card, saying Western companies might reconsider their commitment to Pakistan if problems persist.

- here's The Express Tribune story
- see for more details