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Herb doctor dupe diabetics into taking charcoal-powdered drugs for 8 yearsRegulators under fire for failing to confirm safety, efficacy of traditional medicine
  • By Choi Gwang-seok
  • Published 2017.05.24 18:19
  • Updated 2017.05.24 18:19
  • comments 0

An oriental medicine doctor has finally received a verdict of guilty, for prescribing herb medicine mixed with inedible elements, including charcoal dust, as antidiabetic therapies to his patients.

The Seoul Western District Court Thursday sentenced a herb doctor, known by the initial of “J,” to two years and six months in prison, suspended for four years, and 3.66 billion won ($3.25 million) in fines. J had been indicted with the “Act on special measures for the control of public health crimes.”

According to the prosecution, J illegally imported anti-diabetic substances from China and made 3,399㎏ of pellets from March 2009 to December 2015. The illegal herbal medicines made by J included prescribed drug compounds for antidiabetic drugs, such as Metformin and Glibenclamide, and uneatable charcoal powder. According to the Pharmaceutical Act, only doctors and dentists can prescribe particular medicines. J had swindled 3.66 billion won by selling these fake antidiabetic herbal drugs alone.

These are the pellets made by an oriental medicine doctor, who received a verdict of guilty last week for having sold the fake antidiabetic herb medicine to his patients for eight years.

Patients who took fake herbal medicines mixed with charcoal powder became enraged. Their fault: trusting oriental medicine doctor and his prescription. One of such patients who has taken charcoal-powered medicine is a patient, also known by just his initial of “A.”

Diagnosed with diabetes in March 2008, A had looked for the treatment and ran into an eye-catching report. The report said if people would take a herbal drug made by the oriental medicine doctor J, they could treat the cause of the disease and control blood sugar to normal levels in a few days of taking it.

The patient A, who had deep trust in oriental medicine doctors and herb drugs, went to J’s clinic in Gangnam and got the antidiabetic drug. He received few special treatments there, however. All J did was check sugar levels as patients do at home, and give the premanufactured pellets.

A took the drug for four years and found a strange thing in August 2015. Whenever A took medicine, his lips were covered with black powders. A called the clinic and explained the situation. An official at the clinic said that was because the hospital used charcoal powder to make the antidiabetic drug. Even then, the patient thought charcoal powder might have some effects on the disease.

It was May 30, 2016, that A heard shocking news. Police uncovered three oriental medicine doctors who had sold fake antidiabetic herb drugs that contained inedible charcoal powder, which oriental medicine doctors were banned from using. J was one of them. A later learned 13,000 people used to take the fake drugs like he did.

The patient had paid 3.31 million won in total to buy the drug for eight years but suffered from damages even larger than physical ones. A had come to be unable to use more than 10 teeth because he couldn’t receive proper treatment during the period.

On Jan. 17, A sued J for fraud, and filed a civil petition with e-People, an official Internet site receiving such complaints, in April. In the process, A has come to distrust governmental agencies and other related institutions. He expressed particular concerns because the Ministry of Food and Drug Safety식품의약품안전처(MFDS) failed to check the safety and efficacy of herbal medicines on the ground that doctors follow the rules stipulated in the “Principles and Practice of Eastern Medicine,” an Oriental medicine book written in Joseon Kingdom era.

“The ministry never conducted safety and efficacy tests even though oriental medicine doctors had sold the herb-drug that included compounds of prescribed drugs to cure diabetes for nearly a decade. Should patients continue to take these pills even without knowing what are in them?” said A.

A tried to file a petition to the Constitutional Court to dispute the constitutionality of the practice, which exempts herbal drugs from undergoing safety and efficacy tests as long as they are in the guidelines based on traditional medical books, including the Principles and Practice of Eastern Medicine and the Compendium of Medical Material. Instead, he is waiting for the handling of a similar petition filed by the Institute for Science-based Medicine과학중심의학연구원.

“I hope the Constitutional Court will make a right judgment about the petition,” A said. “Also, I hope no more patients become victims of the herbal drugs with their safety and efficacy not checked.”


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