LAHORE - Eleven young men overdosed and died this year in the same neighbourhood of Lahore after injecting ketamine and sossigon bought over the counter at local drug stores.

Police are investigating the deaths of another three suspected addicts after their bodies were found in Shera Kot, Baghbanpura and Bhati Gate police precincts in the city centre yesterday. Campaigners believe this year’s death toll could be higher than 20.

The high number of these drug-related deaths in just one small area of the city - Mozang - has raised concerns about the availability and lack of restriction on prescription drugs. There is no data available to assess the exact number of Ketamine users in Lahore.

Ketamine is a powerful sedative commonly used as an animal tranquiliser but has become popular in recent years as a ‘rave drug’ in Western nightclubs where it is also known as ‘Special K’. If used at higher doses it is known to cause high blood pressure and psychosis.

In Lahore, it is freely available in medicine stores for just 80 rupees.

The families of those killed by the drug last night demanded action to curb sale of the drug and strict checks to make sure only those with genuine prescriptions are allowed to buy it. They told The Nation that lack of forensic tests on overdose victims suggested the numbers killed by the drug, and another known as Sossigan, could be far higher.

Ijaz Ali was one the relatives of 11 victims who spoke to The Nation about how the drug had devastated their families. His brother Bilal, a 30 year old father of two who worked at a tyre workshop, had been taking the drug for just a few months when his condition suddenly worsened.

“I took my younger brother to hospital shortly after his condition deteriorated at home. He was pronounced as “brought dead” in the emergency ward. He died just months after he started injecting drugs,” he said. “He used to smoke charas and then started sniffing heroin. But he died just a few months after he started injecting Ketamine into his blood,” Ijaz said.

Some parents said they only learned of their children’s addiction following their deaths.

One man said two of his sons had died in the last two years from Ketamine overdoses and his third son is also now an addict. “We shifted him to a public hospital from where he was discharged just after three days. The staff told us that they could provide no more medication to him,” said Muhammad Haroon, father of deceased Razzaq Haroon and Usman Haroon. They were the residents of Masjid Street in Mozang.

Most of the dead were heroin addicts who mixed it with Ketamine or switched to the drug because of its easier availability and low price. Many stores are selling the drug to addicts without a proper prescription from a doctor.

However, the branded medical stores don’t sell such drugs to people without a doctor’s prescription. One pharmacy shop owner said the addicts clashed with his salesmen after being denied the Ketamine on several occasions.

Many parts of Lahore including Civil Lines, Mozang, Race Course, Old Anarkali, Gowalmandi, Tibbi City, Bhati Gate, and Ichhra have become safe heavens for addicts. Most of the addicts are recovered dead frequently from these localities.

Every month, more than 35 people are recovered dead from Lahore’s footpaths, busy crossings, and cottages and most are buried without an autopsy. Police and hospital sources say they believe the overdose deaths from heroin mixed with Ketamine have increased recently.

A police officer said the cops deliberately avoid clampdown on addicts because they cut themselves with blades to protest against the police action. On a few occasions in the recent past, the policemen fled after some addicts stabbed themselves to skip arrests.

How police can arrest such a bleeding addict, the officer asked. Therefore, he said, many addicts sit in the open or on the roads and inject themselves without any fear.

Punjab’s top health official Khawaja Salman Rafique was not available for his comments.

A district government official said the drug authorities always take action against the store owners for selling medicine without prescription of a doctor. “The department has sealed many stores for selling banned items, expired medicines, or drugs without prescription during the last couple of months,” an official said, who asked not to be named.