NEW YORK — Even as China is still counting the costs resulting from Mattel's recall of China-made toys, yet another consumer scandal has come to light.
This time, Johnson & Johnson (J&J) has tracked to China counterfeit versions of an at-home diabetes test widely used in many countries to take sensitive measurements of blood-sugar levels.
According to court documents in New York, some one million fake OneTouch Test Strips, originating from China, have turned up in at least 35 American states and in Canada, Greece, India, Pakistan, the Philippines, Saudi Arabia and Turkey, reported Bloomberg.
In Singapore, the Health Sciences Authority (HSA) told TODAY that while these test strips are available here, no counterfeit test strips have been detected in Singapore so far.
It also advises consumers to buy the products from pharmacies or authorised retailers. According to the HSA, it has been in contact with Johnson & Johnson since the alert on the counterfeit products last year.
That was around the time when potentially dangerous copies of the OneTouch Test Strip, sold by J&J's LifeScan unit, surfaced in American and Canadian pharmacies, according to US federal court documents unsealed in June this year.
J&J, the world's largest consumer-health products maker based in New Jersey, learned of the counterfeit tests after 15 patients complained of faulty results last September.
Tipped off by J&J, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a nationwide consumer alert in October without disclosing the link to China. While no injuries were reported, inaccurate test readings may lead a diabetic to inject the wrong amount of insulin, causing harm or death, the agency said.
Fake medicines are a US$32 billion ($49 billion) global business, according to the World Health Organization. The FDA said it conducted 54 counterfeit investigations in 2006, almost double of those done the year before.
"Growth in counterfeit medicines and devices is probably the biggest health threat besides infectious disease," said Mr Peter Pitts, director of the Center for Medicines in the Public Interest in New York.
The China connection came to light only after the court papers were made public.
"The source was from China, through Canada, to the United States," said Mr Steven Gutman, director of the Office of In Vitro Diagnostic Devices and Evaluation at the FDA in Maryland. "As far as we can tell, the counterfeiter has been put out of business in the US."
The court documents reveal, also for the first time, a worldwide distribution chain discovered in the past year by investigators hired by Johnson & Johnson. The trail, initiated by consumer complaints to a LifeScan hotline, first led detectives to 700 pharmacies where the products were sold, then to eight US wholesalers and then to two importers, one in Las Vegas and another in Canada.
Records seized from the importers show the counterfeit strips were bought from Henry Fu and his company, Halson Pharmaceutical, which according to its Internet site is based in Shanghai.
Halson's website says the company distributes and manufactures medical supplies, such as syringes, and is run by Fu, who is also known as Su Zhi Yong.
Fu was arrested by the Chinese authorities and remains in prison in China, awaiting resolution of his case in the Peoples' Court of Shanghai, reported Bloomberg.
China, the biggest exporter of consumer products, has created a series of worldwide consumer scares this year ranging from contaminated toothpaste to drug-tainted seafood. The communist country executed its former chief drug regulator last month for taking bribes and the nation said it will take five years to stamp out counterfeiting.
Earlier this week, Mattel Inc, the world's biggest toymaker, said it is recalling 18.2 million China-made Barbie dolls and other products with magnets children risk swallowing. - TODAY/fa