More than 40 people, the majority of them drug addicts, have died in eastern Pakistan after drinking a cough syrup believed to have been toxic, doctors and police officials said on Saturday.
According to health officials said as many as 87 people in the industrial city of Gujranwala, which is located in the country's eastern Punjab province, earlier this week consumed a locally-manufactured cough syrup to get high. The addicts, some of whom are from villages near Gujranwala, soon began feeling violently ill.
A government official says authorities are investigating cough syrup believed to have killed 33 people in eastern Pakistan in the past three days.
Abdul Jabbar Shaheen said Saturday that 54 other people are being treated at hospitals in the city of Gujranwala who are also believed to have consumed the syrup. He said those involved are thought to be laborers or drug addicts who drank the syrup to get high.
Shaheen said chemical samples collected from the victims' stomachs contained dextromethorphan, a synthetic morphine derivative used in cough syrup that can have mind-altering effects if consumed in large quantities.
Shaheen said it is being investigated whether the people affected by the syrup in Gujranwala drank too much of it, or whether there was a problem with the medicine itself.
"We have received 54 patients at hospital who said their condition deteriorated after taking cough syrups and 16 of them have died," local hospital chief doctor Anwar Aman told AFP.
The victims were between 20 to 40 years old and a majority had a history of drug addiction, Aman said, adding that so far the culprit syrup has not been identified.
Senior police official Azam Mehr confirmed the toll and said samples of cough syrups available at local pharmacies have been collected and sent to laboratories.
"Police and health department have started inquiries and investigations into the deaths," he added.
Last month at least 19 people were killed in Lahore after drinking toxic cough syrup.
In January around 100 heart patients died in Lahore, Pakistan's second largest city, after taking locally-made tainted medicine.