Police seized more than two tonnes of dangerous counterfeit medication on Saturday and arrested a Phnom Penh pharmacy owner in a sting officials say has netted the largest-ever haul of illegal medication in Cambodia.
After nine days of surveillance, the Ministry of Interior’s Economic Police unit swooped in on the Chamkarmon district drugstore and arrested 49-year-old Heang Chamroeun, who they allege trafficked 42 kinds of expired, sub-standard and fake medication worth an estimated $100,000.
Bepanthen, Becozyme and Laroscorbine – an ascorbic acid used to treat scurvy, but increasingly used with collagen as an injectable skin whitener – were just some of the drugs found on site.
Long Sreng, deputy director of the unit, said the bust was the biggest police had executed in the country, but the trafficking of counterfeit and substandard medication continued.
“We will crack down until they are finished... we have been notified of many of the stores’ locations and we will [raid them],” he said.
Sok Sokun, director of Phnom Penh's municipal health department, said illegal medication seriously endangers public health.
“The [Ministry of Health] faces many difficulties in trying to enforce this law... there are 657 pharmacies in Phnom Penh alone,” he said.
In 2002, the World Health Organisation issued a draft Study on Counterfeit and Substandard Drugs, reporting that 13 per cent of medication on sale in Cambodia was fake or sub-standard and that government inactivity had allowed the problem to manifest.
WHO spokesman Sonny Krishnan said the situation had changed substantially in the past 10 years, with the creation of a special crimes unit to fight counterfeits and support from Interpol. But, despite the improvements, he noted, counterfeits remain a problem.
“We are certainly concerned... these counterfeits are usually coming from Vietnam... Customs people need to be supported and strengthened and should be equipped with field testing kits to test for substandard and fake ingredients.
“In villages, every nook and cranny has a retail outlet for drugs – we need to police these places much, much more as they don’t need a licence – so basically it’s like selling fruit at the stall,” he said.
The suspect is expected to be charged at the Phnom Penh Municipal Court today.