Tainted Drug Blamed for Nine Deaths in China

Sept. 8, 2005: A police officer shows fake pharmaceutical drugs that were seized in China. At least nine deaths have been blamed on tainted drugs produced in the northeastern city of Qiqihar. Photo: AFP/Peter Parks

HONG KONG—At least nine people are known to have died and a further two deaths are being investigated as a scandal involving tainted medicines made in the northeastern Chinese city of Qiqihar widened across the country and a potential risk to children emerged.

In the most recent cases to emerge in China, two men died after a stay in the Suqian City People’s Hospital in the eastern province of Jiangsu.

They were both believed to have been prescribed the Qiqihar-made gall-bladder drug Armillarisin A, which has already killed nine people across the country, according to official media reports.

We know that he definitely took this medicine. But we must carry out an investigation to see if that medicine did in fact cause his death.

“[One] man died a while back,” an official at the provincial health bureau told RFA’s Cantonese service. “He died on May 4.”

“We know that he definitely took this medicine. But we must carry out an investigation to see if that medicine did in fact cause his death,” she said, adding that another man had also died recently in similar circumstances at the same hospital.

'Nationwide bulletin'

Both deaths were under investigation by provincial health authorities, she said.

Calls to the Suqian People’s Hospital during working hours went unanswered, while an official at the city’s drug administration said no formal complaint had yet been received from the victims’ families.

“There has been a nationwide bulletin on this subject to every level of government. Unfortunately we are unable to release any information to you on this subject right now,” the official said. “I don’t know anything about these two people.”

Nine people have been reported dead in a hospital in the southern province of Guangdong in early May after using Armillarisin A, according to provincial health authorities.

The drug was part of 12 batches from Qiqihar contaminated with diethylene glycol, a poisonous industrial chemical.

Four other drugs made by the privately owned Qiqihar No. 2 Pharmaceutical Co. were also contaminated, including a pain-killing enema prescribed for children, the official Xinhua news agency reported.

The pharmaceutical company that made the drug has been shut down and police have arrested the vendor accused of passing off a toxic chemical as one of its ingredients.

A series of poisonings in China

Chemical vendor Wang Guiping supplied one ton of the toxic diethylene glycol, instead of the required propylene glycol, making a 7,500 yuan (U.S. $936) profit on the 14,500 yuan (U.S. $1,810) deal, official media reported.

Wang, a 40-year-old junior high school graduate who was trained not as a chemist but as a tailor, forged a business license, drug registration and manufacturing license, Xinhua said.

But investigators also found that he had help from a chemical company that let him do business under its name in exchange for a 1 percent commission on his sales, Xinhua said.

China has suffered a series of fatal poisonings and other injuries from counterfeit foods and medicines.

Last year, more than 200 infants suffered malnutrition and at least one girl died after they were fed phony milk formula that contained almost no nutrients. Managers of a factory that produced it and several dealers were sentenced to prison.

Original reporting in Cantonese by Fung Yat-yiu. RFA Cantonese service director: Shiny Li. Translated and written for the Web in English by Luisetta Mudie. Edited by Sarah Jackson-Han.


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