Indonesian police zero in on cause of cough syrup deaths

Police in Indonesia have said that the cause of hundreds of deaths among children who consumed adulterated cough syrup may have been industrial-grade ingredients fraudulently labelled as being pharmaceutical grade.

The finger of blame is being pointed at a local trader suspected of forging documentation for bulk chemicals containing ethylene glycol and diethylene glycol – believed to be responsible for the toxic reactions – so they were labelled as containing  propylene glycol, commonly used as an excipient in a variety of drugs as well as being authorised for food uses.

According to a Reuters report, the trader – referred to as CV Samudera Chemical – fraudulently represented the chemicals as propylene glycol manufactured by Dow Chemical Thailand before supplying them to distributors serving local pharmaceutical companies.

Around 200 children in Indonesia have died after being given paracetamol-based syrup containing ethylene glycol and diethylene glycol, substances which are well documented to have been introduced as contaminants into syrup-based products, causing serious injuries and fatalities.

The families of the children have launched a class-action lawsuit against both Indonesia's government and the pharmaceutical manufacturers who made the affected products. A WHO alert last year identified eight different products suspected of being contaminated, including syrups from PT Konimex, PT Yarindo Farmatama, PT Universal Pharmaceutical Industries, and PT Afi Farma.

The Indonesian fatalities were recorded in the midst of a spate of incidents involving DEG and ethylene glycol in cough syrups, with alerts issued by the World Health Organisation (WHO) over deaths in Uzbekistan and Gambia in the last few months.

Reuters said police have arrested and charged officials at Samudera and distributor CV Anugrah Perdana Gemilang.

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