Thursday, April 12, 2012

From ephedrine to Ecstasy

The powerful in Pakistan don’t just indulge in designer items that cost more than an average person’s monthly income, they seem to promote designer drugs.

The current alleged Rs. 7 billion ephedrine corruption case involves Prime Minister Gilani’s son, Ali Musa Gilani and his principal secretary Khushnood Lashari. In October 2011 two firms from Multan were granted export quotas far exceeding those normally allowed for the drug which was then sold locally. Lashari made a furious cover-up attempt by transferring the Anti-Narcotics Force investigating team. The Supreme Court of Pakistan acting rapidly, reversed the transfer and reinstated the investigation. The ANF’s Regional Director Brig. Fahim Ahmad Khan made the stunning revelation to the Supreme Court that Lashari had advised him to leave Ali Musa Gilani out of the investigation and if he did so an investigation could be conducted against the two pharmaceutical companies, Danas Pharmaceuticals and Berlex Labs, which could then be “ruined and the state machinery will be with you”.

The powerful in Pakistan are not only oblivious to the hunger, homelessness and economic deprivation of a massive number of Pakistanis; they are clueless to the scourge of rampant drug addiction within it. Time was that marijuana was all that addicts used. But thirty years ago the Russian invasion of Afghanistan caused not just the influx of refugees to Pakistan but opium as well and Kabul became the opium capital of the world.

Marijuana is classified as the gateway drug and the stage was well set in Pakistan. Morphine is obtained from opium and the cheaply available acetic anhydride is used to convert morphine into heroin. Almost overnight intravenous heroin and cocaine users mushroomed all over Pakistan. The 2006 National Report on Drug Use in Pakistan estimates that there are 628,000 opiate users in Pakistan, out of which 77% are heroin users. According to the Report, the prevalence of opiate use is 0.4% in Punjab and Sind and 0.7% in NWFP and 1.1% in Baluchistan; the higher prevalence in the last two being due to the border sharing with Afghanistan.

Serious health issues are common among opiate users: 8% reported HIV infection, 11% reported Hepatitis C and 18% reported tuberculosis. Most opiate users use other substances on a daily basis. As naturally derived drugs such as marijuana and opiates became entrenched in Pakistan, synthetic or designer drugs made their entrance.

Amphetamine likes substances such as Ecstasy or MDMA, Crystal-Meth or methamphetamine and MDA are synthesized from ephedrine in “meth-labs”. Ecstasy and Crystal-Meth increase alertness, reduce fatigue, and lead to feelings of increased physical and mental powers, and euphoria. MDA is also known as the "love drug" because of the feelings of intense euphoria and desire to be with others that it produces.

Besides their addictive nature these amphetamine like designer drugs can cause severe agitation, life-threatening increases in heart rate and blood pressure as well as bleeding in the brain, heart attacks, tearing of the aorta, irregular heart rhythms, seizures and death.

Chronic use of Ecstasy, in typical recreational doses, can lead to a paranoid psychosis that is clinically indistinguishable from schizophrenia. A recent important study reveals that MDMA use (possibly in conjunction with marijuana) can lead to cognitive decline in otherwise healthy young people.

According to the 2006 National Report on Drug Use in Pakistan, amphetamine like synthetic drug use was low in Pakistan; Ecstasy was the most common and was imported into Pakistan from various countries. The recent dramatic according of ephedrine to Danas Pharmaceuticals and Berlex Labs allegedly by Ali Musa Gilani and Khushnood Lashari, is evidence that Ecstasy users need not rely on imported Ecstasy; our home-grown meth labs can easily fill the demand.

The Anti-Narcotics Force seized 13 tablets of Ecstasy in 2005 and, get this, 8326 tablets in 2006, an increase of 63,938%! Difficult to wrap one’s mind around these statistics; was it truly a dramatic increase in the abuse of Ecstasy or did the ANF get a shot in the arm or both?

Ecstasy is more expensive than other drugs of abuse in Pakistan and is used largely in parties by young people, ages 16-25 belonging to upper-class families. These young people, high on Ecstasy, also indulge in risk-taking behavior such as car and motor-bike racing among a host of other activities.

Drug addiction knows no boundaries of class, wealth, race, age, profession or education. Like the chronic relapsing disease that it is, akin to diabetes and high blood pressure, with worse socio-economic issues, it eats at the fiber of society at every level.

All that an addict worries about is his next fix and all means to that end seem justified be it cheating, lying, robbery, prostitution or murder. With its widespread unemployment and economic decline the last thing that Pakistan could have afforded was its large addicted population. That the powerful and privileged of Pakistan would become sickeningly wealthy through untold corruption is bad enough; to think that those billions have the stench of deaths and destruction from Ecstasy use allegedly manufactured by the ephedrine scam of Ali Musa Gilani is a travesty.