At least 16 people have died in the Pakistani city of Lahore after drinking what police say was toxic cough syrup, forcing authorities to close three pharmacies and a medicine factory.
The deaths occurred in the low-income Shahdra Town neighbourhood between Friday and Sunday with the victims mostly drug addicts who took the syrup to get high, local police station chief Atif Zulfiqar said on Monday.
The scandal comes after around 100 heart patients died in January in Lahore, Pakistan's second largest city, after taking faulty medicine made locally.
"At least 16 people, mostly drug addicts, have died after taking the toxic syrup," Zulfiqar told the AFP news agency, updating an earlier death toll of 13.
"The cost of this laxness in human terms alone, leaving aside any business losses, is huge, but even that does not seem to produce any reaction beyond the initial outcry and indignation"
- Pakistan's Dawn newspaper
"Some of the victims were found dead in a graveyard where addicts used to take different kinds of drugs," he said. Seven others died in hospital.
Three pharmacies have been shut down and their owners arrested, he added.
The health adviser for Punjab province, Khawaja Salman Rafiq, said the syrup would be confiscated from all pharmacies.
He said inspectors had shut down a drugs factory and sent samples to a laboratory for detailed analysis.
"Punjab chief minister Shahbaz Sharif has ordered an inquiry and a report will be submitted to him within 72 hours," Rafiq said.
Doctor Tahir Khalil at Lahore's Mayo Hospital said 20 victims aged 15 to 45 had been admitted after drinking the syrup and most had a history of addiction.
|In January, an investigation was launched into deaths of up to 70 people who were given free drugs in Punjab
"One of the victims who was in critical condition died today and the total deaths in hospital are seven," Khalil said.
"Six people were saved and were discharged after treatment, while seven others were still admitted to hospital," he added.
Pakistan has a number of domestic pharmaceutical manufacturers, making generic versions of drugs and selling them at prices that are more affordable than their overseas counterparts.
While they are supposed to be regulated by the government, a recent devolution of the health ministries to the provincial level has meant that most are not monitored at all.
"The cost of this laxness in human terms alone, leaving aside any business losses, is huge, but even that does not seem to produce any reaction beyond the initial outcry and indignation," Pakistan's leading English-language newspaper Dawn said recently while commenting on the country's regulatory powers.