Relatives say charges too lenient for 13 deaths in drug scandal

PUBLISHED : Friday, 10 August, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 10 August, 2007, 12:00am

A medical expert and relatives of victims of a drug scandal that killed 13 patients in Guangdong last year said yesterday that even if the five defendants charged over the deaths were jailed for the maximum seven years, it would still be too lenient.

At least 64 patients treated for a severe liver illness at Sun Yat-sen University's No 3 Affiliated Hospital in Guangzhou in late April and early May last year were given injections of a fake form of Armillarisin A, a drug used for liver, gall bladder and gastric ailments. The drug was made using toxic diglycol, and 13 of the patients died, most from kidney failure.

Yin Jiade - the former general manager of the drug manufacturer, the Qiqihar No 2 Pharmaceutical Company in Heilongjiang - along with his two deputies, Zhu Chuanhua and Guo Xingping ; laboratory director Chen Guifen ; and the company's drugs buyer, Niu Zhongren, appeared on Wednesday in Guangzhou Municipal Intermediate People's Court.

They are charged with 'dereliction of duty causing serious accidents', mainland media reported.

The maximum jail term would be seven years, they added.

In the hearing, Zhu, Guo and Chen confessed they did not know of the consequences of using diglycol in the manufacture of the antibiotic. It is banned in drug production because of its acute toxic effects.

During the trial, Chen, 55, a laboratory director with a middle school education, also admitted she had no training in chemistry and no 'common sense' about toxic chemicals.

But Yin maintained his innocence, and Niu said he was not responsible for quality guarantees for primary ingredients.

Zhou Qiming , whose 14-year-old daughter, Zhou Jiemin, died from the defective antibiotic, said the maximum penalty for the charges was 'very unfair to the 15 victims'.

'The maximum punishment of seven years is definitely too light. It's far from enough to deter unethical drug merchants.'

The Qiqihar case is one of a number of high-profile scandals that last year prompted Beijing to launch a massive cleanup of the industry. Zheng Xiaoyu , the former head of the State Food and Drug Administration (SFDA), was executed last month for taking bribes to approve hundreds of medicines, some of which proved dangerous.

On Wednesday, the SFDA said it would spend 8.8 billion yuan on upgrading and building facilities such as inspection offices and testing laboratories across the nation to improve monitoring of the food and drug industries.

But Zheng Falei , a medical expert from Peking Union Medical College Hospital, said: 'It is very chaotic in the pharmaceutical industry now. People who have money to please drug officials can become drug producers.

'We need harsher legal penalties - such as the death penalty - to threaten greedy and profit-seeking businessmen and corrupt officials.'

He said education on ethics and professional standards would also help reduce graft in the industry.