China Strikes Hard Against Counterfeit Drug Operations

When it comes to illegal pharmaceutical operations, Chinese authorities are letting it be known that the government is not going to stand for this type of activity any longer. In early August of this year, the Chinese government proved this when they launched a nationwide crackdown of counterfeit drug operations which resulted in the arrest of almost 2,000 people who were either directly or indirectly involved in the production or distribution of these fake drugs.

For the operation to be successful, the Chinese government had to employ more than 18,000 officers in the weeks leading up to the arrests. As of now, it seems as if all the training and work paid off: In the end, 1100 production facilities have been destroyed and over $180 million dollars’ worth of contraband was seized. For many of these facilities, it was obvious just how little attention was paid to the product, focusing rather on the big money of the business.

“We’ve seen peeling paint and dirty equipment and mould in the manufacturing sites, we’ve seen the use of boric acid, rat poison, brick dust, highway paint…have all been found as ingredients,” explained Scott Davis, regional director for the U.S. drug-manufacturing company Pfizer, whose global security division was involved in the shutdown.

This move comes amidst growing concern that counterfeit drugs (particularly those intended to treat cancer, hypertension, and diabetes) have grown so prevalent in the country that they are now disrupting real supply chains and are becoming increasingly harder to differentiate from actual product. What is more, just earlier this year it was discovered that hospital workers in Zhejiang Province had been collecting old packages of high-end medications in order to disguise and sell fake drugs.

Because of the high payoff of the counterfeit drug trade, many organized crime groups are switching from the trafficking of drugs like heroin and cocaine. Additionally, the internet has made it even easier for criminals to reach consumers directly all while maintaining their anonymity. Yet for patients that rely on the high-quality medicine, they are being cheated—out of their money as well as their health.

Fake pharmaceuticals like these can have a severe impact on any person that is dependent upon receiving proper medication. Apart from the obvious fraud, many believe that these counterfeits are responsible for causing liver damage and cardiac arrest in the patients who have used them. “We’ve seen that where there’s been medicines produced that have no active ingredient whatsoever or way over the prescribed amount of active ingredients,” said Davis.

Althought the government has repeatedly promised to drive out these illegal operations and enforce drug and safety measures already in place, most of these “businesses” retreat even further underground, becoming almost impossible to catch, only to pop up once again just a few months down the road. In 2007, when Zheng Xiaoyu, former head of the State Food and Drug Administration, was found guilty of taking bribes and inadequately supervising the market, the Chinese government had him executed.

Despite the massive strike against illegal operations in the past and now, this seems to be a problem that does not easily go away. For years, the Chinese government has been targeting this activity but the problem has yet to be completely maintained. Outside help is needed. To urge the International Police (INTERPOL) to get involved, sign the petition here.

 

Photo Credit: utcourts.gov/lawlibrary/blog/utah_state_government/

Antimalarial Treatments Face a Setback as Fake Drugs Spread Through Stricken Areas

Researchers have recently found that a large wave of counterfeit antimalarial drugs have been circulating throughout many areas of Africa and Southeast Asia—areas in which the deadly disease is most prevalent.  Dr. Paul Newton, of the Wellcome Trust-Mahosot Hospital-Oxford University Tropical Medicine Research Collaboration, described how he and his colleagues tested antimalarial drugs commonly used, in 11 countries between 2002 and 2010.  What they found was an alarming amount of ineffective drugs intended to treat malaria, having an equal and opposite effect. 

Malaria (a highly infectious disease transferred from person to person by way of mosquito bites) is like most diseases in that it can be successfully treated with the correct medications and in the proper doses. However, the counterfeit drugs obtained and studied by Newton and his team only contained the minimum amount of the effective ingredients (artemisinin derivatives), allowing the drugs to pass authenticity tests but not enough to complete cure a person of the disease.  Artemisinin derivatives are largely capable of treating cases of malaria but, without its full and correct dosage, it can do more harm than good. 

“What the counterfeits have done is basically watered down the level of drug in the tablet and then they’ve [the criminals supplying the fake medicine] added in other things that will have no effect against the malarial parasite,” explains Professor Alan Cowman from the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute in Victoria, Australia.  Cowman is a prominent figure among malarial researchers, and sees this problem as not only a way of short-changing an individual of their medicine but also providing the perfect grounds for the disease to build a resistance to the drugs—kicking the legs out from under current efforts to stop the spread of the disease in these areas. 

In the past, both chloroquine and mefloquine were used to combat malaria, but their potency was diluted (in much the same way that current medicine is seeing) down to an amount where the drugs were no longer able to stand alone.  Instead they now work best when combined with artemisinin derivatives to quell the symptoms of malaria and work to eradicate it.  The same is feared of the artemisinin derivatives if the fake drugs continue to be dispersed.  Dr. Jimmy Whitworth, the Head of International Activities at the Wellcome Trust, believes that if a resistant strain of malaria were to spread in these areas, the results would be disastrous. “The effect could be devastating on efforts to control malaria in Africa,” Whitworth points out.

So what work is being down to eliminate the false medications being brought into areas plagued with malaria?

Dr. Newton and others are looking towards public health organizations to help prevent further counterfeit medication from entering and traveling throughout impacted areas, in addition to amping-up the quality of medicine administered to the patients.   Every year approximately 800,000 people die from malaria throughout the world.  According to a 2009 report, another 450,000 people die ingesting fake medication.  To petition Dr. Margaret Chan, of the World Health Organization (WHO), and ask for WHO’s attention in doing this, sign the petition here.

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