Panama City, Panama Panama launched a criminal investigation Thursday after health officials announced that the mysterious deaths of 21 people likely were caused by the intentional contamination of government-made cough syrup with a coolant used in brake fluids.
The deaths had set off a panic here as doctors struggled for weeks to decipher why a disturbing number of men in their 60s were showing up at clinics suffering from severe disorientation and kidney failure. In addition to those who died, at least 38 people fell ill with the same symptoms.
Panama's health minister, Camilo Alleyne, initially suspected a high-blood pressure medicine called lisinopril and recalled 2 million tablets of the drug, which is manufactured in Spain.
But later, with the help of investigators from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta and the Pan American Health Organization, researchers determined that sugar-free cough syrups made by Panama's social security system were laced with diethylene glycol. The chemical most commonly is used as a coolant for brake fluids and hydraulic systems.