Buyer Beware [Global Times]
(Global Times Via Acquire Media NewsEdge)
It is nearly impossible to know whether drugs purchased online are the genuine article. Photo: Li Hao/GT
When her 3-year-old daughter caught head lice at kindergarten, Hao Meng knew exactly where to turn. She logged onto Taobao, China's largest e-commerce website, and bought Quit Nits, an Australian medication. "I never considered Chinese medicines for my daughter because they are too strong and might have harmed her hair. I believe that the foreign brands are safer and better quality," Hao told Metropolitan, adding that after using Quit Nits for only two days, the lice were eliminated. Hao is not alone in preferring overseas brands. Not only is there a widespread distrust of domestic medicine, but the Chinese mainland lacks pharmaceuticals developed exclusively for children. As a result, many people turn to e-commerce sites instead of their local pharmacies. However, experts warn against overconfidence regarding foreign drugs, especially those sold online, which have not undergone professional inspection. The China Food and Drug Administration (CFDA) stipulates that only officially accredited companies may sell drugs online. On Taobao and Weibo, the popular microblogging service, a keyword search for "foreign medicine" and "purchasing agent" yields thousands of results - yet none of these pharmaceutical resellers are required to show that they have been certified for online sales. When a Metropolitan reporter posed as a potential customer, all of the Taobao shop owners she talked to were unable or unwilling to provide proof that their wares were genuine."We directly import from Canada. The medicine is good," said one vendor of Infants' Tylenol, a popular drug to alleviate children's fever symptoms. "If you don't believe me, you can choose not to buy. I can't provide you with the receipt to prove the authenticity of the drugs." Another Taobao seller, who labels the drugs as health care products, said, "They are genuine drugs. I buy them from Hong Kong. My family uses these medicines. They're safe."Prices for foreign medicines vary tremendously. On Taobao, Infants' Tylenol imported from Canada is sold at prices ranging from 65 yuan ($10.66) to 188 yuan. On Londondrugs.com, a Canadian online pharmacy, Infants' Tylenol sells for $7.76. Meanwhile, Taobao vendors sell Little Fevers, an American brand of acetaminophen for children, for 50 to 120 yuan. At Walgreens.com, an US online pharmacy, Little Fevers was priced at $8.49. On the official website of the CFDA, Infants' Tylenol from Canada and Little Fevers from the US are not on the list of approved imported medicines.In August, Beijing police announced the first arrest for online sales of fake foreign drugs. The seller claimed to have imported Yanhee weight loss pills from Thailand, but it was found to contain sibutramine, a banned chemical that can lead to cardiovascular events and strokes. Ge Xinshun, a doctor at Beijing Children's Hospital, told Metropolitan that buying foreign drugs online is risky. "Even though most people are buying drugs that have been purchased from foreign pharmacies instead of prescription drugs, over-the-counter drugs still have side effects and misusing them is dangerous. And it's hard to tell whether the drugs bought online are real or not," said Ge.Ge noted that foreign drugs that have not been approved by CFDA are illegal for use in China. Because of racial differences in how drugs are metabolized, the efficacy of the foreign drugs must be tested on Chinese patients via clinical trials before they can be approved for sale.
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