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Trademark game an unhealthy drug habit
China Daily  Updated: 2006-03-17 05:46

When a patient takes medicine, it can be a matter of life and death. Unfortunately, not all producers of the drugs seem concerned, treating it as nothing more than a game to score easy profits.

The people playing this game include producers, hospitals, doctors, salespeople and authorities in charge of drug supervision and management.

A drug usually has a scientific name and trademark name, and it is with the trademark that the fun and games begin for producers. When a drug is given a new trademark name, the price can change.

Sometimes, a drug is given a new trademark name after the quantity of ingredients has been adjusted slightly, but the price is then increased many times over.

Several officials from the watchdog State Food and Drug Administration (SFDA) were either arrested or detained for their involvement in bribe taking for the approval of new medicines early this year.

This fact seems to have verified the suspicion that some corrupt officials have contributed to the chaos.

Six doctors from a hospital in North China's Hebei Province were caught red-handed taking kickbacks from drug salespeople early this year and a doctor at a children's hospital in Xi'an, capital of Northwest China's Shaanxi Province, had his photo taken doing the same thing. It is no secret that doctors get illicit money from drugs salespeople for prescribing certain drugs.

Of course, drug producers get the lion's share in this game and salespeople get their share from producers.

Down at the bottom of this chain are patients who pay for all the illicit profits. This, to a large extent, explains why it is so costly for a patient to see a doctor.

The kickbacks that fatten doctors' wallets stimulate their appetite for illicit gains and erode their professional ethics.

Whenever they prescribe medicine for patients, they prefer the drugs that get them larger kickbacks instead of putting the actual needs of patients first.

As a result, patients are stranded in a situation in which they pay much more than they should, but do not necessarily get exactly what they need. Kickbacks in turn lead to overuse of antibiotics and other drugs that should not be applied to the patients randomly.

Even worse, patients are more and more confused with the names of drugs. Statistics show that, of the 200 kinds of common drugs, 20 per cent have at least four trademark names, 25 per cent have at least five names and another 25 per cent have six names. Some even have more than 10 trademark names.

People who buy drugs that do not need prescriptions from doctors for their minor ailments risk taking the wrong medicine.

Fortunately, a new set of rules issued by the SFDA on Wednesday may bring some change when they take effect on June 1.

Apart from new drugs that are made of new chemical compositions and have patents, common drugs will be prohibited from using new trademark names.

If the rules can be implemented to the letter, the watchdog will approve only about 100 new drugs a year, compared with more than 10,000 each year of late.

The rules will certainly scrape away the illicit profits from all interested parties if they can be enforced, but it will be an uphill battle.

The watchdog must stand firm and not give the green light to old drugs dressed up as new ones.

We sincerely hope that this battle will end the illicit game and deliver benefit to patients.

(China Daily 03/17/2006 page4)

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