Allopathic adulterants

The prevalence of allopathic medicines in herbal preparations has been of particular concern in Asian countries with large Chinese populations. The Taiwanese Food and Drugs Administration reported that 30% of the antirheumatic and analgesic herbal products that they sampled contained a wide range of allopathic drugs, including analgesics and steroids (NLFD 1991). Another large-scale study in Taiwan analysed 2609 samples and found that 26% contained at least one adulterant, such as acetaminophen and prednisolone (Huang et al. 1997). In Hong Kong, the government laboratory carried out 65,748 tests on Chinese medicines in 2004 (GovHK 2004). Many of the proprietary Chinese medicines on sale for the treatment of obesity and impotence caused the most concern. They were found to contain sidenafil, tadalafil, sibutramine, and N-nitrosofenfluramine. In Malaysia in 1991, 83% of anti-arthritis preparations seized from Chinese medicine shops contained phenylbutazone. 'Black pills' for arthritis, known as 'Zhui Feng Tou Gu Wan' or 'Black Pearls', have also been reported to contain phenylbutazone (Ries and Sahud 1975).

Adulteration is a widespread practice and has been reported in Australia, Belgium, Canada, The Netherlands, New Zealand, the UK and the USA. In 1999, 8 out of 11 Chinese herbal creams available in London for the treatment of eczema were found to contain dexamethasone at concentrations inappropriate for use on the face or in children (Keane et al. 1999). The 1998 Californian survey of imported Asian patent medicines revealed that of the 257 products that were analysed for pharmaceuticals, 17 products contained pharmaceuticals that were not declared on the label (most commonly ephedrine, chlorpheniramine, methyltestosterone, and phenacetin) (Chan 2003). In India, 38% of 120 samples of alternative medicines that had been dispensed to patients suffering mainly from asthma and arthritis were found to be adulterated with steroids (Gupta et al. 2000).

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