Health News

China denies Olympic ban on drug sales

BEIJING (Reuters) - China denied on Friday that pharmacies had banned the sale of everyday products such as cold medication and rash cream to prevent accidental doping during the Olympics, and sought to assure that drugs would meet standards.

Workers install the Olympic poster outside the Shanghai Stadium July 17, 2008. As part of the Games anti-pollution drive, hundreds of factories in provinces surrounding Beijing will face production cuts or freezes over coming weeks aimed at ensuring clean air for athletes during August's Olympic Games, local media reported on Wednesday. REUTERS/Aly Song

Yan Jiangying, spokeswoman for China’s State Food and Drug Administration (SFDA), was responding to reports carried in domestic media that pharmacies had pulled such medications from the shelves in an Olympics safety drive.

“It’s true that some media has reported that the SFDA has made the decision to eliminate or to ban sales of drugs that contain stimulants during the Olympics Games,” Yan said.

“Here I have to tell you that these reports and that information is not true,” she told a news conference.

The misunderstanding highlights the concern in China to hold a perfect Games and ensure the safety of food and drugs in a country whose record on quality has been under intense scrutiny following a series of scandals.

China has designated one company, Beijing Pharmaceutical Corp, as the sole distributor of drugs and medical devices for all competition and training venues and all hospitals that will be serving athletes “so that we can ensure the completeness of information and the traceability of such products,” Yan said.

Earlier this year, a Chinese company was blamed by the Greek weightlifting team for providing dietary supplements that contained banned ingredients. The company had not been approved to produce drugs.

Beijing pharmacists said they were under stricter watch.

One said cough syrup was still being sold but that customers needed to register and give personal information before making a purchase.

Another said pharmacies were now obliged to inform customers that products contained stimulants and to “carefully inquire about whether or not customers were athletes.”

On Thursday, state-run Xinhua news agency said the food and drug watchdog had repeated its requirements that people must have valid prescriptions to buy certain drugs but added that pharmacies “should not on their own authority stop the sale of drugs that are not banned.”

Yan said there were long-standing rules in place that prevent retailers from selling products containing anabolic steroids and human growth hormones (HGH) -- with the exception of insulin -- and that retailers would have their licenses revoked if they violated the regulations.

Certain types of ordinary, over-the-counter medications would also carry special labels to prevent their misuse.

“We are labeling these medicines with cautious use for athletes just to prevent the athletes from misusing such drugs,” Yan said. “But these are just ordinary drugs for ordinary people and they can use such drugs in a safe manner.”

Additional reporting by Beijing newsroom; Editing by Ken Wills and Jeremy Laurence