Eight suffer lead poisoning after taking traditional Indian medicine

Eight people in the North Island suffered from lead poisoning after taking traditional Indian medicine.

Te Whatu Ora national clinical director for health protection Dr Susan Jack said two of these patients were at serious risk of death.

“They had extremely high blood lead levels,” she said.

The cases, over the last three months, were in Auckland and Bay of Plenty.

“That is more than we have seen over any similar period in previous years,” Jack said.

Te Whatu Ora and The National Poisons Centre sent an alert to doctors to be on the lookout for symptoms.

“Some of these patients went several times to emergency departments before it was picked up that it was actually high blood lead levels.”

High lead blood levels are difficult to identify because symptoms are not specific and can vary from abdominal pain to headaches and even seizures.

These patients were taking products that are part of the Ayurvedic traditional Indian medicine system.

“There is a wide variety of Ayurvedic medications out there and we have not got a good handle on everything that might be available or being used in New Zealand at this point,” Jack told 1News.

Te Whatu Ora have tested a small number of samples of the products.

They are used for a range of reasons including improving fertility and sexual enhancement.

The tests confirmed not just high levels of lead but also other contaminants.

“They do not have a name, they are little brown tablets or little black tablets, which often come in plastic bags,” explained Jack.

Some Ayurvedic products, such as kamini, contain opium and they are not just illegal in New Zealand but can also cause addiction.

There are a number of people being treated for kamini addiction in South Auckland – some sought help after suffering withdrawal symptoms when attempting to lower the amount they were taking.

In 2020, police charged three people for importing kamini, mostly from India and Australia.

Last year Customs stopped 12.5kg of kamini from entering New Zealand.

“Customs work to detect smuggling has identified attempts to bring kamini into New Zealand and held those trying to illegally import it to account. This includes the investigation and prosecution in 2022 of a large-scale importer of chewing tobacco and kamini pills,” said Dominic Adams, Customs’ manager of investigations.

One person is currently before the courts on charges involving approximately 280 kilograms of kamini and barshasha (a similar opioid-containing herbal medicine).

Jack said people should be careful when taking products when they do not know what is inside.

“High levels of lead or other heavy metals can be contaminants in these types of medications,” said Jack.

All eight patients who had high lead levels in their blood have now recovered.

If you have more information about kamini use in New Zealand, please contact

By Ana Maykot

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