Drug firms get a taste of own medicine

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Two companies that accused a rival of misusing raw materials that double up as addictive substances are being probed for the same offence

A pharmacy on
Hanoi's Hai Ba Trung Street. Imexco and Stada Vietnam, who alleged that a rival pharmaceutical company misused raw materials that can also be used to make addictive substances, may have done it themselves.

Imexpharm has become the second drug company to be investigated for something it had accused a rival company of - dubious use of raw materials that can be used as addictive substances.

Officials from the Narcotics Investigation Department turned up at the company's head office in Cao Lanh District in the Mekong Delta province of Dong Thap on Monday (December 26) after raiding the Ho Chi Minh City-based Stada Vietnam Joint Venture Company three days earlier.

A source told Thanh Nien that investigators are also considering raiding some other pharmaceutical companies.

Imexpharm and Stada were among eight companies who, in September, accused Drug Administration of Vietnam director Truong Quoc Cuong of illegally favoring import applications for methamphetamine precursor by BV Pharma Company.

The other six are Agimexpharm, S.Pharm, Minh Hai, Tipharco, Pymepharco, and the Khanh Hoa Pharmaceutical Company.

But while Khanh Hoa later withdrew its allegation, the other seven repeatedly denounced Cuong.

On October 24 government inspectors investigated BV Pharma but found no evidence of violations in the import of methamphetamine precursors and several codeine-based medicines as claimed by the pharma companies, Phap Luat Thanh Pho Ho Chi Minh (Ho Chi Minh City Law) newspaper reported.

Their preliminary findings are that BV Pharma imported 5,131 kilograms of pseudoephedrine hydrochloride between May 2008 and July 2011, just six kilograms more than the allowed limit of 5,125 kilograms.

The substance is used to produce common flu and allergy remedies, but can also be used to make methamphetamine.


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The drug companies had alleged that Cuong gave approval to BV Pharma for importing nearly six tons in the first six months in 2011, and then did not monitor its operations, allowing it to illegally sell the product to make meth.

After checking invoices and other documents, the inspectors dismissed the allegation the company had illegally sold the imported pseudoephedrine hydrochloride.

All the imports were accounted for and the company had followed regulations by producing medicine, they said.

But the boot may be on the other foot now. The Narcotics Investigation Department and the Ministry of Health reported serious violations by Imexpharm in manufacturing and trading addictive medicines, Nong Thon Ngay Nay (Countryside Today) reported.

They said Imexpharm had illegally exported Nucofed Cap, a combination of codeine and pseudoephedrine hydrochloride, to a Cambodian drug company.

The company failed to report to the Drug Administration how it had used addictive substances and precursors, the newspaper said.

Minh Hai was found to have illegally sold more than two million Armincort, an addictive pill, to Thien Son Pharmaceutical Company.

It also sold Artenfed, a drug containing pseudoephedrine hydrochloride, to two unregistered pharmacies and bought 500 kilograms of pseudoephedrine hydrochloride from Yteco Company in March without getting approval from the Drug Administration.

The paper also said Minh Hai's invoices showed it had sold more than 5.5 million Artenfed tablets to the Lao Cai-based Pharmaceutical Company 10, while the latter denied buying them.

Deputy minister accused

Meanwhile, BV Pharma accused Deputy Minister of Health Cao Minh Quang of instigating the eight companies to make the allegations and said he himself had slandered it.

In a letter it sent to the Prime Minister, BV Pharma alleged that Quang had falsely accused it of illegally selling pseudoephedrine hydrochloride and using corn starch to produce fake drugs.

It wanted government agencies to find out the motive behind these acts.

It also asked the government to investigate other "issues" related to Quang, such as abusing his authority to borrow money from the company and obtaining a fake doctorate.

Last month Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung ordered the Government Inspectorate to investigate BV Pharma's allegations.

In September the company had written to the Ministry of Health, accusing Quang of borrowing VND1 billion (US$48,000) from it in 2007.

A war veteran in HCMC urged the police to look into suspicions that Quang had made false statements about his qualifications.

The education ministry confirmed last month that his so-called doctorate from a Swedish university in 1996 was in fact only a pre-doctoral degree.

On December 23 Party Central Committee inspectors met with Party members at the ministry to verify accusations against Quang and a verdict is expected to be announced on January 4.

Meanwhile, Nong Thon Ngay Nay newspaper hinted that Quang may have changed certain rules to benefit the companies.

He recently decided to amend two ministry circulars on the management of addictive medicines and precursors, exempting firms producing and trading drugs with a maximum of 100 milligrams of codeine from many regulations stipulated in them.

This limit is higher than the level stipulated in the circulars.

The newspaper said the amendments would make Imexpharm and Stada Vietnam's violations much less serious and they were likely to get away with a fine or something equally lenient.

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