China rounds up hundreds in crackdown against drug counterfeiters

Chinese authorities warned 6 months ago that they were on the lookout for drug counterfeiters who often sell their fakes worldwide over the Internet. This weekend they made good on that threat, rounding up 1,300 people and confiscating $362 million worth of drugs and raw materials.

The raids were reported this weekend by the state news agency Xinhua, according to Reuters. It said police seized counterfeits that were being sold online for everything from cold and flu products for children to heart meds.

China is identified by the Washington, DC-based International Policy Network as one of the world's biggest makers of counterfeit drugs. In October, for example, Swiss authorities confiscated a million fake Xanax pills from a jet headed from China to Egypt. The country is a thorn in the side of Western countries because so many of the online websites selling fakes are in China, out of their reach. The FDA, the Department of Homeland Security and the U.S. Postal Service have alleged that one of the largest rings selling counterfeits online is operated by Bo Jiang, a Chinese national they have been pursuing for 5 years.

But China has been showing signs of cracking down on these operations. In June, Chinese authorities said the government was starting a 6-month crackdown on counterfeiting. Without giving a source, Xinhua reported that police have shut down 140 websites and online pharmacies in 29 provinces since then, Reuters reported. In March, Chinese authorities said they had prosecuted more than 8,000 people last year for selling counterfeits, 5 times as many as in 2011.

China pledged in 2008 to get tough on its illegal drug production after raw heparin from there killed dozens of U.S. dialysis patients. The public furor also pushed the FDA to pay more attention to foreign suppliers and to ask for more money to locate inspectors in countries that pose the greatest risks to the U.S. drug supply. Congress kicked in more money last year, but China has been blocking visas for new inspectors. Vice President Joe Biden took the matter up during his recent visit there and secured a pledge to let the inspectors in. The FDA plans to add 10 drug and 9 food inspectors to the staff of 9 it already has in the country.

- here's the Reuters story