Indian maker of cough syrup linked to Uzbekistan deaths shuts down production

New Delhi

The Indian maker of a cough syrup linked to at least 18 deaths in Uzbekistan has halted production following an investigation by drug regulators, India’s health minister said on Friday.

Uzbekistan’s Health Ministry said that Doc-1 cough syrup, made by Indian pharmaceutical company Marion Biotech, contained ethylene glycol, a toxic solution.

The Uzbek ministry said seven employees were fired for negligence and all relevant documents were handed over to law enforcement agencies for investigation. The ministry also said the cough syrup was misused by parents.

On Friday, Indian Health Minister Mansukh Mandaviya tweeted that all Marion Boitech manufacturing activities at its headquarters in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh had been halted following an inspection by India’s Medicines Agency on Thursday evening “while further investigations are ongoing”.

Marion Biotech could not immediately be reached for comment.

Hasan Harris, Marion Biotech’s legal director, told Indian news agency ANI: “We are awaiting the reports, the factory has been inspected. We have halted production of all drugs.” As of Friday, the company’s website was down.

In a statement Tuesday, Uzbekistan said Doc-1 Max syrup was mistakenly used by parents themselves or at the recommendation of pharmacy vendors as a remedy for the common cold, causing shortness of breath in children taking the drug.

The Uzbek Ministry of Health said in its statement that the deceased children took 2.5-5ml of the drug at home for 2-7 days, which exceeds the standard dose of the drug for children, before being admitted to the hospital. All of the children received the drug without a doctor’s prescription, the ministry added.

It remains unclear how many of the children consumed the cough syrup contaminated with ethylene glycol or received more than the standard dosage, or both.

The ministry said it had withdrawn all tablets and syrups of the drug from pharmacies across the country and said 7 responsible staff members were fired from their positions “for negligent and sloppy performance of their duties”. It also said disciplinary action would be taken against a number of specialists, but it did not specify who or what those actions would be.

Ethylene glycol is commonly found in antifreeze used in automobiles. If ingested, it can damage the brain, lungs, liver, and kidneys and lead to death.

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