May, 2018

Phony Chinese anti-impotence drugs a health hazard

Original article: The Global Times

Counterfeit versions of drugs used to treat impotence are damaging the health of Chinese men, according to reviews of roughly 1,000 related court cases over the past decade. Side effects of the fake anti-impotence drugs include heart attack, stroke, liver failure and even death. While most of the drugs have been sold in China, some have been exported to Africa, the United States and the Middle East. 


Like almost all counterfeits in China, fake versions of drugs used to treat impotence have risen in tandem with demand for the real thing. Wen Deyuan, an expert on men's health, told Hunan Metropolis Daily that more than 60% of Chinese men aged 40-70 suffer from impotence. "It has become one of the major health issues of Chinese men," he said. 

Most Chinese men do not seek professional medical help for the problem, but instead purchase over-the-counter drugs. In some cases, the products they purchase are herbal supplements that promise to boost male virility. At other times, the drugs are fake versions of branded anti-impotence medication. 

The majority of the fake pills are produced in underground labs, notes The Global Times. Fake anti-impotence pills often contain a mixture of corn starch and sildenafil, the active ingredient in the brand-name medications. Often, sildenafil doses in counterfeit pills are much higher than what is clinically recommended. The Global Times cites examples of pills containing close 10,000 mg of sildenafil, which is about 100 times the maximum recommended dosage. 

Some counterfeiters insist their pills are safe. One counterfeiter quoted in Hunan Metropolis Daily told investigators: "I rotated three batches of workers to determine the best ratio of corn starch and sildenafil powder, which should be 1 to 1.5," he said. 

In some cases, buyers of the drugs only want herbal supplements, but they unknowingly purchase pills loaded with sildenafil. In January, authorities in the Zhejiang province city of Shaoxing busted a massive anti-impotence counterfeit drug operation, which in the period of just two months had already earned RMB 1 million in revenue from the sale of the counterfeit pills. Investigators discovered that the drugs all contained sildenafil citrate despite being touted as herbal supplements. 

Thus far, responses by China's authorities to the problem of fake anti-impotence drugs have been muted. There have not yet been any large-scale campaigns targeting the fake pills. In 2016, the China Food and Drug Administration did issue notices warning consumers about the potential health hazards of using fake anti-impotence pills. The notices called for offenders - any companies that added sildenafil to their dietary supplements - to be seriously punished.