Myanmar’s deputy home affairs minister said yesterday that authorities have in recent weeks seized K2.8 billion (US$2.3 million) worth of counterfeit drugs, expired medicines and related production materials.

General Aung Soe said the Ministry of Home Affairs raided 11 pharmacy and pharmaceuticals warehouse sites from August 31 to September 12, after surveilling locations that had been highlighted in a report from the Ministry of Industry. The sting was carried out at places including stalls in Bogyoke and Shwe Pyae Sone markets in the commercial capital, netting 44 different types of counterfeit pharmaceuticals.

“Counterfeit drugs, expired medicines, different kinds of fake BPI stamp documents, chemical liquids which are used for producing counterfeit drugs, medical pouch-sealing machines used for packing medicine and pill counting machines” were among the goods seized, the deputy minister said at a press conference yesterday at the Ministry of Industry in Nay Pyi Taw. A printer used to stamp fake trademark labels was also seized, he added.

BPI, or Burma Pharmaceutical Industry, was a state-run drug maker renamed Myanmar Pharmaceutical Factory in 1988. It is under the administration of the Ministry of Industry.

Officials yesterday described two duplicitous techniques used by the pharmaceuticals scammers. Counterfeit drugs produced at factories in Mandalay and Yangon regions, as well as Chinese-made medicines, were bottled with bogus BPI labelling, and legitimate but expired BPI drugs were found to have had their labels reprinted with dates that indicated they had not yet expired.

Twelve men and two women have been detained and a case has been opened under section 18 of the 1992 National Drug Law, the deputy minister said. Charges under section 18 carry with them a fine of K50,000 to K500,000, a maximum seven years in prison or both, according to Dr U Oakka of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

“These people are distributing and selling imitation medicines and if the public buys and uses them, significant harm can occur. We will take action against all the relevant people in this case,” Gen Aung Soe said.

Union Industry Minister U Khin Maung Cho said given the public health risks posed, production and sale of counterfeit pharmaceuticals would not be tolerated.

“The imitation medicine business cannot be forgiven and it can cause people trouble. So we are announcing [the consequences of counterfeiting] clearly today,” U Khin Maung Cho said.