By Allan Dodds Frank and Lisa Rapaport
Aug. 16 (Bloomberg) -- A global manhunt launched by Johnson & Johnson has tracked to China counterfeit versions of an at-home diabetes test used by 10 million Americans to take sensitive measurements of blood-sugar levels.
Potentially dangerous copies of the OneTouch Test Strip sold by J&J's LifeScan unit surfaced in American and Canadian pharmacies last year, according to federal court documents unsealed in June. New Brunswick, New Jersey-based J&J, the world's largest consumer-health products maker, learned of the counterfeit tests after 15 patients complained of faulty results last September.
Tipped off by J&J, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration issued a nationwide consumer alert in October without disclosing the link to China. While no injuries were reported, inaccurate test readings may lead a diabetic to inject the wrong amount of insulin, causing harm or death, the agency said. Fake medicines are a $32 billion global business, says the World Health Organization, and the FDA says it ran 54 counterfeit investigations in 2006, almost double the year before.
"Growth in counterfeit medicines and devices is probably the biggest health threat besides infectious disease,'' says Peter Pitts, director of the Center for Medicine in the Public Interest in New York and formerly an FDA official investigating knockoff drugs.
The court filings disclose, for the first time, that China is the source of about one million phony test strips that have turned up in at least 35 states and in Canada, Greece, India, Pakistan, the Philippines, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey.
`China, Through Canada'
``The source was from China, through Canada, to the United States,'' says Steven Gutman, director of the Office of In Vitro Diagnostic Devices and Evaluation at the FDA in Rockville, Maryland. ``As far as we can tell, the counterfeiter has been put out of business in the U.S.''
KEY PHRASE: â€œAs far as we can tell â€¦â€
TRANSLATION: Nobody has been caught and they are still very likely in business.
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Kudos to J&J for aggressively investigating and openly communicating -- and being loud and proud about the quality of the real product.