Fri, Mar 26, 2010 - Page 2 News List

Special task force to fight fake drugs

By Jenny W. Hsu  /  STAFF REPORTER

A cross-agency task force will be established to combat counterfeit drugs and medical products sold via underground radio stations, the Internet and night markets, the Executive Yuan and the Department of Health announced yesterday.

Premier Wu Dun-yih (吳敦義) told a briefing that he expects the taskforce to turn in a weekly report updating him on the progress of its efforts, starting next month.

The department said Taiwanese spend more than NT$30 billion (US$940 million) each year on dialysis or related treatments for renal failure caused mostly by counterfeit drugs purchased via underground radio stations, the Internet, street vendors, night markets, tour buses, sex-toy shops and some pharmacies.

“These unethical vendors make profits from selling fake drugs. Such behavior not only puts the public’s health at risk, it also further strains the national health insurance system,” Wu said.

Food and Drug Administration Director Kang Jaw-jou (康照洲) said vendors often take advantage of trusting buyers by exaggerating the efficacy of drugs and selling them at a low price.

The products range from hypertension drugs to skin rash ointments, the report said.

The task force will be made up of personnel from the National Police Administration, the Ministry of Justice, Coast Guard Administration, National Immigration Agency, the National Communications Committee and the health department.

Kang said the department set up its own mechanism to crack down on fake drug vendors, with less than ideal results.

Last year, only 102 cases were brought before courts and 283 manufacturers fined. The total fines collected totaled NT$110 million, he said, adding that in accordance with Wu’s request, the health department will push for an amendment to include harsher punishment for violators within three months.

The department held another public hearing yesterday about setting up special medical services zones catering solely to foreign patients. No consensus was reached during the four-hour meeting.

Health officials said the scheme could be profitable, but the Taiwan Healthcare Reform Foundation worried that the rights of low-income patients might suffer as doctors would prefer to see high-paying patients.

Deputy Minister of the Department of Health Chen Tzay-jinn (陳再晉) said last year foreign patients accounted for only 0.33 percent of patients treated, indicating that it would be possible to set up a special medical services zone without interfering with the access of local patients to healthcare.

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