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Panama Wants Tainted Medicine Turned In

October 20, 2006

PANAMA CITY, Panama (AP) _ Thousands of health workers and students took to Panama’s streets to collect bottles of cough syrup and lotions contaminated with an industrial chemical as the death toll from the tainted medicine rose to 27 on Friday.

Authorities also urged the public to turn the medicines, which were made by a government-run pharmaceutical factory, over to collection centers or health brigades to prevent more deaths.

Forty-three people remain hospitalized due to the effects of diethylene glycol, an industrial chemical related to antifreeze, that found its way into sugarless cough syrup, pills. The Health Ministry reported 27 deaths linked to the tainted medications.

Authorities have recovered about 3,750 bottles of the syrup _ the medications which appears to have be implicated in the largest number of cases _ but reports indicate that as much as 20,000 bottles may have originally been sold to the public, often poorer Panamanians who depend on government health services.

The government has ordered the cough syrup and cold remedies removed from store shelves, and on Friday thousands of health workers and university students combed neighborhoods in Panama City and elsewhere to collect the medications and convince those who may have taken them to have themselves examined.

``We have recruited people to make a sweep, going house-to-house even, in areas where we have information that people may have gotten prescriptions″ for the contaminated medicines, said the government’s health promotion director, Mayanin Rodriguez.

About 30 collection centers have been set up to receive the old medications and offer the public replacements of safe equivalent medications.

Authorities have detained five people who allegedly sold contaminated raw material to the government factory. The five suspects allegedly bought the material from a supplier in Spain.

Most of those affected were patients over 60 with a history of diabetes or high blood pressure. The victims also experienced symptoms including nausea and diarrhea.

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