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Articles from January 2008

China launches national campaign against online illegal drugs

China’s State Food and Drug Administration is to intensify its crackdown on online illegal drug sales, in order to enforce its supervision of Internet-based drug distribution. According to research based on investigated cases, illegal online pharmacy activity included pedalling medicines without authorisation, exaggerated drug adverts, offering fake or illegal drugs for mental illnesses and misrepresenting unapproved websites as legitimate ones. According to the Administration, there are only five authorised online Chinesepharmacies – two are in Beijing, while the others are in Shanghai and the Liaoning and Shandong provinces.

In China, the Internet has been used as a platform for illegal drug sales due to its purchasing convenience, low cost and consumer-to-consumer characteristics. The Administration has also made plans for cooperation with some popular web portals to help them self-police against illegal medicine adverts. In Shanghai, the local supervision agency uncovered 24 illegal drug websites from other provinces or regions and has since passed on the information to the respective authorities. It also gave warnings to seven unauthorised businesses with websites publishing illegal medicine adverts, shut down 21 websites for illegal drug sales and punished 15 websites for their unlawful sales activities.The supervision departments have accordingly warned consumers to consult with their doctors before buying medical products or medicine over the Internet. (31 January 2008, Xinhua News)

China and EU join forces in anti-piracy battle

The European Union and China are to establish a jointly developed network to exchange information between their ports as part of the struggle against counterfeiting, it was announced during an EU visit to Beijing. EU taxation and customs commissioner Laszlo Kovacs said during the visit: “Counterfeiting is a serious threat to the safety, the health and even the life of our citizens.” The port co-operation is to include an ‘intelligence network’ between European and Chinese ports. Although the commissioner declined to give details of this network, in November last year, the British, Dutch and Chinese customs authorities established a similar pilot project exchanging for the first time electronic information on sea containers passing through the ports of Rotterdam, Felixstowe and Shenzhen.

During his stay in China, commissioner Kovacs also hopes to discuss a possible bilateral co-operation agreement to tackle the trade of drug ‘precursors’, which are often used to manufacture illicit synthetic drugs. (29 January 2008, EUObserver.com)

China fake drug scandal claims 14th victim

A batch of fake medicine claimed its 14th victim when a 37-year-old man died of kidney failure nearly two years after receiving a counterfeit injection. The fake medicine contained a cheap industrial syrup, diglycol, which attacked patients’ kidneys, livers and nervous systems. The man died on January the 23rd, despite an earlier kidney and liver transplant. (24 January 2008, Reuters)

Drug-tracking system faces another delay

California is poised to become the first state in the USA to legally require electronic tracking for prescription drugs as part of an effort to combat the $40 billion global counterfeit drug trafficking trade. Fake prescription medicines, along with diluted or expired drugs, are a growing problem in the USA drug distribution system. The number of counterfeit drug cases investigated by the USA Food and Drug Administration increased nearly tenfold from 2000 to 2004. The law, which was enacted by the state Legislature in response to strong public pressure to prevent counterfeit drugs from reaching the legitimate marketplace, requires that each bottle of prescription drugs be assigned a unique serial number. Everybody who transfers the drug – from manufacturer to wholesaler to pharmacist – would have to record that fact by adding to the drug’s electronic record, or e-pedigree. Any suspect drugs would be embargoed. However, the law could be delayed for the second time since 2004 and may not come into effect until 2011. This is in order to give the drug industry more time to put systems in place to track individual medicine bottles as they move through the supply chain. (23 January 2008, San Francisco Chronicle, USA)

Shy patients flock to the web and avoid the GP

A survey of over 2,000 adults has revealed that embarrassment about a condition, or diagnostic examination, keeps people away from the doctor’s surgery. Instead, 38% look their symptoms up on the internet to try to self-diagnose embarrassing conditions, for example, sexually transmitted infections and bowel conditions. More than one in ten admitted buying medicinesfrom online pharmacies. Dr Laurence Buckman, chairman of the British Medical Association’s GPs’ Committee, warned about the danger of any diagnosis on the internet, saying: “The person on the other end may not be a doctor. That’s very dangerous”. The Royal Pharmaceutical Society ofGreat Britainhas introduced a logo so the public can identify the websites of legitimate online pharmacies (see ‘Internet pharmacy logo’ article below). (14 January 2008, The Daily Mail, UK)

ABPI endorses verification of internet pharmacies

While the initiative by the Royal Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain (RPSGB) to verify internet pharmacies is a useful step in offering some sort of guarantee to patients, the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI) has confirmed that retail pharmacies offer the only truly secure way of ensuring the safe dispensing of prescription medicines. Unregulated online pharmacies present serious risks for patients, including:

  • supervision of a qualified pharmacist cannot be guaranteed
  • the medicine may be dispensed in an unprofessional manner and may not be suitable for the patient
  • some internet sites may not ask for a prescription, which raises serious public health worries
  • about half of the medicines provided by internet pharmacies are fake, according to the World Health Organization.

“The pharmaceutical industry very much hopes that this RPSGB initiative will go some way to answering some of the questions raised by the use of internet pharmacies,” said David Fisher, Commercial Director at the ABPI. “However, it is not going to solve all these problems overnight, and patients who order medicines through them must continue to take every precaution to ensure that their health is not put at risk.” (10 January 2008, Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry)

Internet pharmacy logo

All retail pharmacies in the UK must be registered with the Royal Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain (RPSGB). A number of legitimate registered pharmacies provide online pharmacy services. However, many websites claiming to sell legitimate medicines are actually frauds. Buying medicines from such websites can present a number of risks. There is no opportunity for a qualified health professional to assess medicine appropriateness and advise on how it should be taken. In addition, the safety and quality of medicines sold by unqualified online pharmacies can not be guaranteed. To help tackle this growing problem, the RPSGB is introducing a new logo which will be seen on the front page of participating online pharmacy sites. By clicking on the logo visitors are linked to a page on the RPSGB website where they can check that they are purchasing medicines from a registered pharmacy. (10 January 2008, Royal Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain)

Increased penalties for counterfeit drugs in Thailand

Thailand’s Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is planning to increase fines on importers, sellers, and manufacturers of fake drugs. Currently, fake drug manufacturers can be imprisoned for life, whilst fake drug importers and sellers can be jailed for up to 20 years. The Thai FDA’s new proposal would not alter the jail terms, but would see the maximum fines accompanying the jail sentences increasing from 50,000 baht (about €1,150) to 5 million baht (about €114,000) for fake drug manufacturers; and from10,000 baht (about €230) to 2 million baht (about € 45,000) for fake drug importers and sellers. The most common fake drugs sold in Thailand are those indicated for treating AIDS, bird flu, malaria, tuberculosis, obesity, and erectile dysfunction. (9 January 2008, Pacific Bridge Medical – Asian Medical Newsletter)

France seizes 24,000 fake anti-impotence pills

French customs officials have seized a shipment of 224,000 fake Viagra® and Cialis® anti-impotence pills worth 2.4 million Euros. The fake drugs were found during a search at the French capital’s main air hub at Roissy, in a freight cargo on its way to Brazil from India. Each boxfound inside thefreight cargocontained four tablets in the characteristic shape and colour of the best-selling medicines, which were confirmed to be fakes. (7 January 2008, Reuters)