Drug misuse kills 200,000 Chinese a year - doctors

Updated: 2007-05-21 16:43

Guangzhou - About 200,000 people die in China each year from improper use of drugs, Chinese doctors and pharmacists said during a weekend meeting, and they called for greater efforts to educate consumers.

"People should be told that they can't consume drugs any way they want. There is no drug that has no side effects, they must not take drugs like they eat rice," said Professor Jin Shiming, a committee member of the Guangdong Provincial Science and Technological Association.

Speaking at a conference on drug safety organized by the Guangdong Province Association of Traditional Chinese Medicine and a Chinese newspaper, Jin said nearly 200,000 people die each year from improper use of legitimate drugs.

He did not explain how the panelists had calculated that number.

"All drugs have some level of toxicity. We can only cut back on the toxicity and reduce adverse reactions with accurate usage," he said.

Jin and other experts at the seminar on Saturday described patients who took excessive doses of traditional medicine in the belief that they would recover more quickly.

Traditional Chinese doctor Mei Quanxi from the Zhongshan Chinese Medicine Hospital cited a case where a man died after consuming a whole ginseng root that his wife bought him. Ginseng is used in the treatment of diabetes and sexual dysfunction.

"Ginseng is a very heaty herb. If you use a lot of it as a tonic, it is dangerous, which is why we have a saying that ginseng can kill," Mei told reporters after the conference.

Side Effects

Many consumers were also ignorant about potential side effects, they said.

"For example, some people don't know that they can't mix certain drugs with alcohol, so they die," Jin said.

The young are not spared, and a substantial percentage of deaf and mute children in the country owed their conditions to improper drug consumption, another panelist said.

However, they stressed that these 200,000 deaths each year were due to improper use of drugs and not a result of fake drugs, which is also a problem in China.

"These are approved, proper drugs, but if you do not strictly follow instructions when taking them, you will get into problems," Jin said.

"This has nothing to do with fake medicine. Anyway, fake medicine is not medicine. They are criminal."

Food and drug safety is under increasing scrutiny in China, following a series of breaches that have drawn attention to insufficient product inspections and oversight.

On Monday, Chinese media reported a second official from China's food and drug agency went on trial last week alongside the watchdog body's former head, in the latest blow to the country's record on food safety.

The Beijing Youth Daily reported that Cao Wenzhuang, who headed the medicine registration office at the State Food and Drug Administration, was accused of taking 2 million yuan (US$261,000) in bribes from drug companies in exchange for granting approvals.

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