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Health D-G Warns of Traditional Medicines


Director-General's Privileged Statement

Under Section 98 Of The Medicines Act 1981

Director-General of Health Dr Karen Poutasi is today warning people to stop taking eleven traditional Chinese medicines sold as herbal remedies after investigation and testing revealed they contain prescription medicines and toxic substances.

The Ministry of Health's medicines safety authority (Medsafe) is ordering the withdrawal of three traditional Chinese medicines containing the herb aristolochia, which can cause kidney damage and urinary tract cancer.

A number of other traditional Chinese medicine products containing prescription medicines including sildenafil, ephedrine and arsenic, are being withdrawn.

Products to be withdrawn are:

* Guan Xin Su He capsules; Long Dan Xie Gan Wan pills; Zhiyuan Xinqinkeli sachets - all contain aristolochic acid. Has been linked overseas to severe kidney damage and urinary tract cancer.

* Wei Ge Wang tablets - contain prescription medicine sildenafil. Viagra, is the only brand of sildenafil legally sold here. Sildenafil is known to interfere with some heart medication and could be fatal to some individuals.

* Sang Ju Gan Mao Pian tablets - contain 21mg Diclofenac (a non steroidal anti-inflammatory) per tablet and about 1mg Chlorpheniramine (an antihistamine). These are pharmacy-only medicines and are illegal to be sold at outlets other than pharmacies.

* Yen Qiao Jie Du Pian capsules - contain 3mg Chlorpheniramine, 0.056mg Diclofenac per capsule and about 450mg Paracetamol (pain reliever). The following five products contain prescription medicines:

* Niu Huang Jie Du Pian tablets - contain 4% arsenic.

* Xiaoke Wan pills - contain Glibenclamide (an antihyperglycaemic) 2.5mg per 10 pills.

* Shuen Feng cream - contains Ketoconazole (an antifungal ) and Clobetasol Proprionate (a cortcosteroid, which controls skin inflammation).

* Zentel Albendazole SK&F tablets - contain Albendazole 200mg per tablet.

* Dezhong Rhinitis drops - contain ephedrine hydrochloride.

Dr Poutasi says people using any of the 11 products should immediately stop taking them and seek medical advice from their GP.

The products were discovered following an investigation into a complaint to Medsafe about a Chinese herbal medicine. Testing was carried out by either the Therapeutic Goods Administration in Australia (TGA) or the Institute of Environmental Science and Research (ESR) in New Zealand.

Medsafe has written to the importers and distributors of traditional Chinese medicines requesting they cease all distribution and sale of these products, and withdraw them from retail outlets they may have supplied. They have also been asked to ensure other products they sell do not contain any scheduled medicines.

Medsafe has also written to all general medical practitioners alerting them to these products, outlining risks associated with their use and providing advice on appropriate management of people who have taken them.

Dr Poutasi says there have been no reported cases of kidney damage or urinary tract cancers associated with aristolochia reported in New Zealand. However, she says in some cases individuals who have taken aristolochia may show no symptoms and should check with their GP to be sure.

"People taking these products should exercise caution and if they have any health concerns, they should contact their GP."

It is impossible to be certain herbal remedies do not contain prescription medicines without testing. Dr Poutasi says it's important consumers are cautious as there may be more Chinese herbal products at risk of containing prescription medicines or toxic substances.

However, the following steps may help minimise the risks from consuming products containing aristolochia, sildenafil or any other prescription medicines. - ensure they are aware of all the ingredients of any herbal remedy they take - check with a medical practitioner that the herbal remedy will not interfere with any other medication they may be taking - only buy products that have all ingredients listed on the product, in a language they are able to understand, or which has been accurately translated - seek assurance from suppliers, importers and manufacturers of the products that they are safe and do not contain aristolochia

Dr Karen Poutasi Director-General

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