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China helps bust US drug websites

Updated: 2012-09-04 02:24
By SHAN JUAN ( China Daily)

FDA official praises crucial role played by domestic agency

An operation by China and the US has shut down illegal Chinese-language websites in the US selling counterfeit date-rape drugs and Viagra, Christopher Hickey, director of the Food and Drug Administration’s China Office, told China Daily in an exclusive interview.

"We welcome and appreciate the role played by the China State Food and Drug Administration to initiate the campaign and hope to continue combined efforts in the global fight against counterfeit drugs," said Hickey, who has been leading a team of 13 members in China for nearly four years.

The action, launched in June, targeted websites in the US advertising counterfeit drugs and health food.

This campaign was the first of its kind, targeting mainly Internet sales, since the administration officially opened an office in Beijing in November 2008, he said.

The 18 websites shut down were run and hosted by Chinese speakers and targeted mainly Chinese consumers, including Chinese Americans around the world.

A third of the websites were selling counterfeit or illegal dietary supplements, he revealed.

Some websites offered free Viagra or Cialis, to treat erectile dysfunction, with the purchase of health food. "Both should be bought through a prescription and selling them on the Internet is illegal," he said.

The other websites were illegally selling a suppressant marketed and sold for date rape, Hickey said.

"Using information from the SFDA, we have been able to shut down these illegal websites but it’s difficult to say where the drugs were made.”

But by hosting the information in either traditional or simplified Chinese characters, "they were clearly aiming for Chinese-speaking consumers".

The focus of the campaign was not on consumers but companies hosting the

websites in the US, he explained.

In most cases, the companies did not even realize that they were helping sell counterfeit products, he revealed.

But he conceded that it

was difficult to totally eradicate such websites as they

can change their host location almost at the flick of a switch.

"The problem is international and only through global cooperation can these websites be shut down and prevented from opening again,” he said.

SFDA spokeswoman Wang Lianglan said China will always cooperate with their counterparts in the US and other countries to help ensure drug and food safety.

And the Sino-US campaign was actually part of a national crackdown on fake and illegal drugs on the mainland, she said.

That operation saw police seizing 205 million tablets designed to look like brand-name drugs for treating male impotence, hypertension, diabetes, and cancer, reports said.

The SFDA will step up operations this year with other law enforcement agencies and government departments to curb counterfeit medicine, she said.

Clinical trials for drugs, especially those to be exported to the US, will be the next combined project, Hickey said.

Sites of clinical trials on the Chinese mainland will be inspected to ensure that products meet the required standards.

Roughly 24 million shipments of FDA-regulated products were imported into the US in the 2011 fiscal year — from Oct 1, 2010 to Sept 30, 2011 — from 228 foreign jurisdictions including China, statistics from FDA showed.