Record French drugs haul: 2.4 million fake pills, capsules and powdered medicines labeled Chinese tea


French customs officers have seized millions of counterfeit medicines — aspirin and drugs for diarrhea and erectile dysfunction — from China in what they described as the biggest haul of its kind within the European Union.

A total of 2.4 million pills, capsules and powdered medicines were seized at the end of February in the northern port of Le Havre in 601 boxes labeled as containing Chinese tea, customs officials said Thursday.

“Some of the drugs contain no active ingredient,” said a customs statement. “Others have different levels of the active ingredient compared to the authentic drug, which means they could represent a serious health risk for patients taking them.”

The previous record seizure in the EU was for 1.2 million doses of counterfeit aspirin, also made at Le Havre in Normandy, in May 2013. Like that seizure, the powdered aspirin was mainly composed of glucose.

According to the U.S. nonprofit group Center for Medicine in the Public Interest, traffic in fake medicine raked in $76 billion globally in 2010, a 90 percent rise from 2005.

Le Havre is a huge commercial port in France through which nearly 2.5 million containers transit annually. Every year, customs seize tens of thousands of counterfeit products, including television sets, mobile phones, auto parts, clothes and medicine, most of which come from China en route to African countries such as Nigeria.

Last year, counterfeit drugs represented nearly 20 percent of all seized products, and consisted mainly of fake pills of Viagra and Cialis for erectile dysfunction, as well as aspirin.

The European Alliance for Access to Safe Medicines estimates that 62 percent of drugs bought on the Internet in 2011 were fake.