A lot of hue and cry has been raised about the illegal import of Ephedrine and the prosecution of many based only on political considerations without analysing the truth and the real story behind this so-called scam. Reaching conclusions without doing any background research or even looking at the merits of the issue is a national trait we as a nation are very good at.

According to Wikipedia, Ephedrine is a sympathomimetic amine, commonly used as a stimulant, appetite suppressant, concentration aid, decongestant, and to treat hypotension associated with anaesthesia. Ephedrine is similar in structure to the (semi-synthetic) derivatives amphetamine and methamphetamine. Chemically, it is an alkaloid derived from various plants in the genus Ephedraceae (family Ephedraceae). It works mainly by increasing the activity of noradrenaline on adrenergic receptors. It is most usually marketed in the hydrochloride and sulfate forms.

Ephedrine is used for multiple ailments and is not a narcotic as wrongly perceived. It is still the most commonly used over the counter (OTC) medicine available in the US for asthma. In addition to this, it is also included in the essential medicine list of the World Health Organisation (WHO).

Because of its nominal cost, it is common men’s remedy and is used widely by general practitioners (GOP’s) and village based practitioners for the poor patients, who cannot afford expensive medication. In Pakistan, there are approximately 15 million asthma patients. The cost of treatment for one week with Ephedrine is only Rs 50; whereas if one compares it with the cost of treatment with newer medicines (leukotrine inhibitors, inhalers, beta two agonists), it averages more than Rs 500. One can easily extrapolate the additional cost to be borne by the nation if such a useful medicine is made unavoidable.

It is pertinent to add here that various lobbies in states are debating its control verses its benefits. Multinationals with interests in commercial marketing of newer costlier products are using various forums and lobbies to discourage cheaper medicines like Ephedrine. They are pumping in millions of dollars using unethical practices to increase their sales and depriving the poor masses of an effective medication, which is available at affordable rates.

The common assertion about the case involves the presence of Ephedrine in Ecstasy (MDMA or 3,4-Methylenedioxymethamphetamine), a psychoactive drug in amphetamine class. Ecstasy is similar in nature to other amphetamines and hallucinogens. It speeds up the nervous system and acts as a mood enhancer and often makes the user feel good, happy and relaxed. Ecstasy is basically the name of any drug that contains the active ingredient MDMA (3,4-methylendioxymethamphetamine), however every ecstasy pill is different and there is no quantity of substance so every pill will contain a different quantity of MDMA and some pills could contain no MDMA at all.

The ingredients used to make the drug (Ecstasy) may include Dextromethorphan (DXM, a cough suppressant), Ketamine (an anesthetic), Caffeine, Cocaine, Methamphetamine, Amphetamine, Paramethoxyamphetamine (PMA), LSD (acid), Bicarbonate of Soda, Glucose and Ephedrine (a stimulant). If the logic of selective selection of one ingredient and banning it is right, then why not go ahead with banning the sale of all the drugs containing the other ingredients.

Talking of controls, to the surprise of common public, we also have a Drug Regulatory Authority that came into existence in 2012 under a Government Ordinance. It comprises nine “sleeping” members getting paid handsomely at the cost of poor taxpayers’ money. Ever heard of them coming up with a detailed research analysis? Forget it!

To sum it all, our tilt has always been towards banning things, instead of looking for logical remedies, but that requires logical thinking; an attribute we are good at suppressing all the time. The answer lies not in banning the medications, but to improve controls.

    The writer is a PhD in Information Technology, alumni of King’s College         London and a social activist. He is life member of the Pakistan         Engineering Council and senior international editor for IT Insight         Magazine. He has authored two books titled Understanding             Telecommunications and Living In The Grave and several research papers.

    Blog: drirfanzafar.com

    Email: drirfanzafar@gmail.com