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China seizes $180M worth of fake drugs, arrests 2,000 suspects

BEIJING -- Chinese police detained almost 2,000 people in a nationwide sweep on fake drugs, seizing more than $180 million worth of counterfeit products and destroying some 1,100 production facilities, the public security ministry said on Sunday.

The operation, involving around 18,000 police officers, discovered fake or adulterated drugs purporting to deal with illnesses ranging from diabetes to high blood pressure and rabies, the ministry said in a statement on its website (link in Chinese).

The suspects went so far as to advertise their drugs online, in newspapers and on television, and the drugs caused problems ranging from liver and kidney damage to heart failure, it added.

"The criminals' methods were despicable and have caused people to boil with rage," the ministry said.

On Sunday, the ministry released a statement saying it would offer rewards of up to $8,000 for any information about fake drug operations, The New York Times reported.

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The Chinese government has repeatedly promised to tighten regulatory systems after safety scandals involving fish, drugs, toys, toothpaste, children's clothes, tires, drugs and milk fortified with melamine, used in the manufacture of tabletops.

But little has been done apart from a few, highly publicized arrests. Tackling the issue has not been helped by China's confused and still developing regulatory environment, corruption and the high profits counterfeiters can rake in.

Earlier this year, Chinese consumers recoiled at stories of drug capsules tainted with chromium, long-term exposure to which can cause serious organ damage.

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While it hailed the success of the latest raids, the ministry warned it was too soon to be able to rest on their laurels.

"The crime of making fake drugs is still far from eradicated, and criminals are coming up with new schemes, becoming craftier and better able to deceive," it said.

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The ministry called on consumers to only use above board pharmacies and hospitals and not "easily believe advertisements".

Bloomberg Businessweek reported that as much as 30 percent of drugs in developing countries are counterfeit, with China and India the biggest suppliers of fake drugs, according to World Health Organization estimates. 

Reuters contributed to this report.

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