Report Urges Action Against China's Multi-Billion-Dollar Expired Drugs Racket
Ma Xiaohua|Zhang Yushuo
/SOURCE : yicai
Report Urges Action Against China's Multi-Billion-Dollar Expired Drugs Racket

(Yicai  Global) Dec. 6 -- Expired and thrown-away drugs not only pollute the  environment but also pose a threat to people's health in China where  illegal recyclers have nurtured an underground black market worth tens  of billions of yuan.

Around  half of people in the country will destroy drugs found at home that  have expired, while almost one-third will throw them away as normal when  taking out garbage, according to an investigatory report on the  industry from China Resources Pharmaceutical Group.

Expired Drugs As Dangerous Waste

Over  three-quarters of Chinese households keep spare medicines, of which 30  percent to 40 percent have expired over three years, while 82.8 percent  of households do not regularly check their medication or dispose of them  in a proper manner, according to a whitepaper from Alibaba Health  Information Technology. Statistics show that nearly one-third of adverse  drug reactions in China are caused by expired drugs or  improperly-stored pills.

Medication  has a clear period of validity and those that have expired may  deteriorate rapidly in effects, change in nature and even generate  harmful substances after long-term storage. Such drugs, if taken, are  unable to relieve or treat diseases and may cause harm to a patient's  body, which could even result in poisoning and death.

Expired  drugs are very likely to cause damage to the human body, and those  randomly discarded may pollute the environment when buried together with  domestic garbage and they may be recycled illegally and re-enter the  market. Experts say that an expired pill's pollution is equivalent to  that of three batteries and enough to contaminate a person's water  consumption for five years.

"These  illegally recycled drugs, whether expired or not, will re-enter the  market," said one medical industry insider. "Tens of thousands of people  in the Beijing-Tianjin region are engaged in illegal drug recycling,  according to industry calculations, and Tianjin has become a  distribution center for the trade which generates billions or tens of  billions of yuan each year." 

Urgent Need for National Policy Action

The  expired drugs are harmful and there is a lack of regulations on  recycling, the reports states. The current Pharmaceutical Administration  Law regulates clearly on the production, sales and use of drugs while  defining expired drugs as inferior and prohibiting their production and  sales. The law, however, doesn't clarify disposal methods, nor the  people responsible for the process. Household expired drugs have become a  public safety threat and await the introduction of relevant national  policies.

Expired  drugs are categorized as hazardous waste but not treated as so and are  still disposed of as normal trash in many places. "They are generally  mixed with domestic garbage and will not be treated separately during  disposal," said  a member of staff at Beijing Environmental Sanitation. "Compared with  the 26,000 to 28,000 tons of daily garbage in Beijing, the amount of  [expired drugs) is very low and they can only be put onto landfills  alongside household waste." 

"There  is no standardized mechanism for expired drugs," he added. "Only some  local governments and enterprises have taken it on themselves to carry  out recycling and centralized treatment, most are thrown away as  domestic garbage." 

Some  people will even sell the expired medicines directly to drug dealers  for illegal recreational use, he said, adding that although local  governments have introduced some regulations treatment, they are  guidelines rather than laws.

"Household  expired drugs are socially-sourced hazardous waste with scattered  sources and small quantities, thus difficult and expensive to collect  and dispose of," said Li Jing, assistant secretary general of the  Hazardous Wastes Professional Committee of China Resources Recycling  Association. "Such drugs, if unclassified and uncollected, can be  incinerated and disposed among domestic waste with controllable  environmental risks. If classified and collected, they must be handed  over to the firms with hazardous waste handling licenses."

"China  has corresponding laws and regulations and will improve the collection  and treatment system of hazardous wastes from social sources," he added.

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Keywords: expired drugs , illegal recycle