China arrests 2,000 over fake drugs
1,100 facilities destroyed in July crackdown
Police in China have announced that they seized counterfeit pharmaceuticals worth about $182 million in late July as part of a continuing crackdown. In all, over 18,000 officers were deployed, around 2,000 people suspected of being involved in drug counterfeiting rings were arrested and 1,100 production facilities were destroyed in an operation that hints at the vast scale of the problem.
Some of those involved had apparently advertised their drugs online, in newspapers and on television. The drugs involved included some sold on the regulated market to treat diabetes, high blood pressure and rabies. Many contained toxic substances that caused liver and kidney damage and even heart failure. A Chinese ministry commented: "The criminals' methods were despicable and have caused people to boil with rage."
The raid was publicised by Rx-360, the pharmaceutical supply chain consortium that has campaigned for restrictions on fake and sub-standard drugs, and was also covered by the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal and other mainstream news outlets. It is not yet clear whether the drugs involved were for the domestic or the international market or both but fake drugs are a massive problem in either case.
This was just the single largest of many recent crackdowns as the Chinese government seeks to rebuild trust in the food and drug supply chain, after scandals that have caused thousands of deaths and injuries both in China and abroad. In November 2011, authorities seized $30 million worth of counterfeit drugs and arrested 114 suspects. The heparin scandal in 2008 led to some 80 deaths and hundreds more severe allergic reactions in patients in the US.
More recently in April, the SFDA, China’s drugs regulator, suspended the sale of 13 drugs using capsules containing excessive levels of chromium. These had been made from leather scraps containing industrial gelatin that uses chromium as part of the tanning process. Up to 250 drug manufacturers are now known to have been using industrial rather than food-grade gelatin.
Subsequently, the SFDA has published a revised guidance document on pharmaceutical excipients, following a consultation period of just a week. Available only in Chinese, this essentially places the duty of ensuring drug quality on pharmaceutical manufacturers. They will now be required to audit suppliers using their own QC departments, implement management systems and use standardised product lot numbers, while acting proactively to ensure quality if they change suppliers.
Officials that the problem of fake drugs is “still far from eradicated … Criminals are coming up with new schemes, becoming craftier and better able to deceive," a public security statement said. To a large degree, this is down to pressure on health costs and the consequent bidding system that has pressurised drug manufacturers to cut corners in order to keep costs down.