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Toxic cough syrup suspected in 33 Pakistani deaths

It's not entirely clear if the victims were sick, trying to get well, or junkies needing a fix.

Pakistan cough syrupEnlarge
A Pakistani relative looks over patients who consumed toxic cough syrup are treated in a ward of a hospital in Gujranwala on Dec. 29, 2012. (Arif Ali/AFP/Getty Images)

At least 33 people died after drinking toxic cough syrup in Pakistan's city of Gujranwala and neighboring villages, officials said on Saturday, according to the Associated Press. It's the second time this year the medicine allegedly killed many people.

More from GlobalPost: 'Toxic' cough medicine kills 16 in Pakistan

Most victims are 20 to 40 years old, and according to Agence France-Presse, many are drug addicts who likely "took the syrup for intoxication."

What caused these deaths is unknown, and it's unclear if victims overdosed on cough syrup or if there's something wrong with the medicine.

However, local official Abdul Jabbar Shaheen told the AP tests show the victims' had dextromethorphan, a "synthetic morphine derivative" in their system that in large amounts is a hallucinogenic.

Azam Mehr, a senior police official, told the AFP cough syrup samples taken from nearby pharmacies were collected and sent to laboratories for testing.

"Police and health department have started inquiries and investigations into the deaths," he said.

During November this year in Lahore 23 people died, many drug addicts, under similar circumstances. Three pharmacy owners were arrested for allegedly selling toxic medicine, and their stores shut down. A factory was also closed.

In January about 100 patients died in Lahore from local, toxic medicine, the Bangkok Post reported.

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/regions/asia-pacific/121229/toxic-cough-syrup-suspected-33-pakistani-deaths