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Cases Unveiled: Adulteration of Chinese Medicines with Western Chemical Drugs

  • Data Source:Ministry of Health and Welfare
  • Created:2014-07-09
  • Last Updated:2017-01-11

Suffering from cough, a man bought Chinese medicine in a martial arts house. After taking the medicine, his face and feet became swollen. Suspecting the Chinese medicine was adulterated with other drugs, the man reported to the health bureau requesting analysis. The case was referred to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) of the Ministry of Health and Welfare, which found nine Western chemical drugs from the analysis including prednisolone and dextromethorphan. During an inspection of street vendors near an elementary school, the health bureau found that products marked as manufactured in Mainland China were on sale. As the vendors ran away, the inspector sent 28 samples to the FDA for examination. Among them 24 were found to be adulterated with Western chemical drugs, mostly Sildenafil, the main component of Viagra. With the protection of the FDA, fears about the health risks such as these can be put to rest. According to the FDA statistics, samples of Chinese medicinal preparations sent by the county and city health bureaus, the judiciary, prosecutorial, police and investigative agencies, and the customs administration from 2010 to 2013 numbered 5,125 in total; the detection rate was decreasing every year (as shown in Figure 1). Among those samples with chemical drug components detected, 91.7% came from martial arts houses, green herb stores, non-professionals and unidentified sources. 

Among the detected chemical drug components, 28.8% were aphrodisiacs, 25.0% were painkillers, 10.3% were central nervous system stimulants, and 9.6% were diuretics (as shown in Figure 2). For those medicines that were detected with adulterants, 34.5% were adulterated with more than one Western chemical drug component; some even with as many as ten components. Among the received samples, 627 were marked as manufactured in Mainland China; among them 518 were detected with adulterated chemical drugs, with a detection rate of 82.6%; aphrodisiacs were the most detected in the samples, at 86.1% (446/518). 

Chinese medicinal preparations (including those prepared in accordance with traditional prescriptions, or locally processed with the use of natural animal, plant, and mineral ingredients, in pill or powder forms), if found adulterated with Western chemical drugs, are in breach of the Pharmaceutical Affairs Act. For those unauthorized manufacturing or trafficking parties, the violation of Article 20 or 22 of the Pharmaceutical Affairs Act applies, with a sentence of imprisonment under ten years, and a fine of not more than NT$10 million; for those unauthorized parties who sell, supply, or display with the intent to sell, a sentence of imprisonment under seven years and a fine of not more than NT$5 million apply. 

The FDA urged the public not to purchase products from unknown sources or without clear labeling. In case of illness, one should consult qualified physicians and take products produced by legitimate pharmaceutical manufacturers; if in need of any medicines, please contact one’s physician or a professional for advice to prevent the loss of money and health.