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125 medicine firms punished over doping agents
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China has punished 125 medicine companies for illegally producing and distributing performance-enhancing drugs since launching a nationwide campaign last year to ensure a drug-free Olympic Games, said a senior drug official on Wednesday.

"Inspections show Chinese pharmaceutical manufacturers, wholesalers and retailers have basically reached the requirements for doping control," the State Food and Drug Administration's deputy chief Wu Zhen told reporters.

There were inspection checks and unannounced visits in mid-May in the six Olympic host cities: Beijing, Shanghai, Tianjin, Shenyang, Qinhuangdao and Qingdao.

Of the 125 enterprises facing punishment, 93 were retail pharmacies.

Eighteen distributors, half found in Anshan City, Liaoning Province, had their trade licenses revoked, Wu said.

Three manufacturers who had sold erythropoietin or human growth hormone -- both used to enhance athletes' performance -- to unauthorized wholesalers were ordered to stop production.

The rest received administrative punishments, said Wu.

In addition to the 125 medicine companies, 23 chemical enterprises were ordered to stop illegally producing and trading doping agents.

He told reporters a new regulation will be issued in the next few days stating that all illegal production and distribution of doping agents before and during the Games should be seen as "serious" and receive the highest penalties allowed by law or the loss of licences.

"Criminal cases will be handled by public security agencies," said Wu.

A local court handed down a sentence of seven years in prison plus fines of 800,000 yuan (about 114,300 U.S. dollars) for a case of illegal online doping sales in the central Jiangxi Province, according to Wu.

He said in that case, the drugs were mainly purchased from unlicenced wholesalers in Nanchang City, Jiangxi Province, and Xianju County in neighboring Zhejiang Province. They were sold online to buyers around the world, with total sales value reaching 1.1 million yuan.

Since the second half of 2007, officials have dealt with 321 websites that illegally released information on selling protein assimilation preparations and peptide hormones, which are banned in retail drugstores.

"We found it really hard to deal with the online selling...as false telephone numbers and addresses were put on the websites," said Wu.

He urged to further intensify anti-doping actions, saying senior officials from eight central government departments will be sent to six Olympic host cities for supervision from the end of June to the beginning of July.

Apart from athletes, some young people are also taking such drugs to keep fit or for excitement, said Wu.

He said China's crackdown on doping not only aims to ensure a successful Olympics but also to protect Chinese youth from the harm of drugs, said Wu.

There are more than 4,000 producers, nearly 10,000 wholesalers and about 300,000 retailers of medicine in China, according to Wu.

(Xinhua News Agency June 19, 2008)

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