Hard times

By Li Ruohan Source:Global Times Published: 2015-10-21 20:18:01

Counterfeit Viagra pills raise their ugly head in China

Counterfeit Viagra pills seized by police in Foshan, Guangdong Province


A total of 27,700 counterfeit Viagra pills sized in Shanghai customs are destroyed in Qingpu district in Shanghai on July 24, 2012. Photos: CFP

Police in Nanjing, East China's Jiangsu Province busted 10 sex shops for selling over 900,000 fake Viagra pills, worth more than 1 million yuan ($157,000), media reported on Tuesday.

Chemical tests by the local food and drug inspection department found that the major ingredients of the knockoff pills were starch and sildenafil, the active ingredient in Viagra, Nanjing-based Modern Express reported on Monday.

One of the erectile-dysfunction pills costs between 0.3 to 1.5 yuan to produce and they were being sold for 80 yuan per tablet, said the Modern Express report.

There are only three officially approved erectile-dysfunction (ED) medicines in China-Viagra, Cialis and Levitra-and they are only available with a prescription, Wang Chuanhang, the director of men's health at Beijing's China-Japan Friendship Hospital, said in a previous interview.

Sexologists and police have said that 80 percent of Viagra-type drugs sold in China are counterfeit.

Stiff penalties

Reports on bogus Viagra busts are a regular occurrence and ersatz pills made in China have been sold to European and African countries, according to foreign media reports.

Police in Wenzhou, East China's Zhejiang Province arrested 52 people suspected of illegally manufacturing and selling sexual health products to around 600 sex shops in 31 provinces and regions, Xinhua reported in December 2014.

The gang, who hail from South China's Guangdong Province, injected sildenafil into corn starch to make capsules and sold them as sexual health products, said the report.

Three men in East China's Anhui Province each were sentenced to 15 years in prison for producing 16 million counterfeit Viagra pills and raking in over 100 million yuan, news portal chinanews.com reported in 2013.

Most of the counterfeit pill pushers have little or no knowledge of pharmaceutics and the purity of their products made from sildenafil vary from 20 to 80 percent, making it difficult or impossible to take a precise dosage of the drug.

The packages of these pills do not list their ingredients or health warnings, Wang said. "Taking drugs with excessive levels of certain additives could kill a customer with heart disease," he added.

Taking sildenafil without a doctor's advice might be fatal for those with conditions such as diabetes, depression and cardiovascular diseases, Wenzhou Daily quoted medical experts as saying.

In addition, a sina.com report in 2012 said harmful ingredients have been found in counterfeit pills including arsenic, boric acid, floor wax and lead paint.

Those who produce or sell fake medicines that are "harmful enough to seriously endanger human health" may face the death penalty, according to article 141 of China's Criminal Law.

Most of the counterfeits are made in small factories in rural areas and pass through several hands until they hit the shelves of small sex shops in cities.

Many men head to sex shops selling performance-enhancing products instead of seeing doctors, preferring to address their ED problem in secret, Guangdong-based southcn.com reported in 2013, adding that authentic Viagra is too expensive for many and that often people don't even realize the cheaper products are counterfeit.

Online penetration

There are many stores on tmall.com, Alibaba's e-commerce platform, selling Viagra that they claim is produced by Pfizer, the only producer approved by the China Food and Drug Administration, for around 114 yuan per pill.

Though labeled as "prescription medicine," many sellers reached by a Global Times reporter said that one could buy pills without providing a prescription.

Police in Guangdong also found people selling ED pulls via social media such as WeChat and Weibo, an approach that is much harder for law enforcement authorities to detect and one that can reach more customers, Nanfang Daily reported in May.

Various sex-enhancing drugs and topical medicines are sold at a Xingshiliangpin, a sex shop chain store, in downtown Beijing for between 100 to 1000 yuan.

"Pills containing traditional Chinese medicine and sprays for external use are more popular than Viagra," said a saleswoman at the sex shop, claiming that those products are cheaper and have fewer side-effects.

However, many web users wrote on social media platforms that they had bought ED medicine online and via sex shops, and later felt dizzy and uncomfortable.

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