The Indian maker of a cough syrup linked to at least 18 deaths in Uzbekistan has halted production after an investigation by drug regulators, India’s health minister said Friday.
Uzbekistan’s health ministry said the cough syrup, Doc-1, manufactured by the Indian pharmaceutical company Marion Biotech, had contained ethylene glycol, a toxic solution.
The Uzbek ministry said seven employees have been dismissed due to negligence and that all relevant documents have been given to law enforcement for an investigation. The ministry also said the cough syrup was incorrectly used by parents.
On Friday, Indian heath minister Mansukh Mandaviya tweeted that all Marion Biotech’s manufacturing activities at their headquarters in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh had been stopped as of Thursday evening “while further investigation is ongoing,” following an inspection by India’s drug regulatory agency.
Marion Biotech could not be immediately reached for comment.
Hasan Harris, Marion Biotech’s legal head, told Indian news agency ANI: “We await the reports, the factory was inspected. We’ve halted production of all medicines.” As of Friday, the company’s website was not operational.
In a statement Tuesday, Uzbekistan said the Doc-1 Max syrup was incorrectly used by parents as an anti-cold remedy on their own or on the recommendation of pharmacy sellers and this resulted in respiratory distress in children who consumed the medication.
The Uzbek health ministry said in its statement that the deceased children had taken 2.5-5ml of the drug at home for 2-7 days, which exceeds the standard dose of the drug for children, prior to being admitted to the hospital. All children had been given the drug without a doctor’s prescription, the ministry added.
It remains unclear how many of the children consumed the cough syrup tainted with ethylene glycol, or had been given 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The ministry said it had withdrawn all tablets and syrups of the drug from pharmacies across the country and said that 7 responsible employees have been dismissed from their positions “due to negligent and careless attitude to their duties.” It also said disciplinary measures are being applied against a number of specialists, but it did not specify who or what those measures would be.
Ethylene glycol is commonly found in anti-freeze used in motor vehicles. If ingested, it can damage the brain, lungs, liver and kidneys, and can lead to death.