Rising problem: Viagra and other ED drugs disguised as vitamin C, bromelain supplements to enter South Korea

By Tingmin Koe contact

- Last updated on GMT

The MFDS uncovered 681 products containing medicines or ingredients not permitted for use in health functional foods. © Getty Images
The MFDS uncovered 681 products containing medicines or ingredients not permitted for use in health functional foods. © Getty Images

Related tags: South korea, MFDS, Inspection

South Korea’s Ministry of Food and Drug Safety (MFDS) has uncovered products containing Viagra and other medicines used to treat erectile dysfunction (ED) entering the country under the guise of vitamin C and bromelain supplements.

The month-long inspection, conducted between May and June, was aimed at dietary supplements bought from overseas website directly and subsequently entered the country via express and/or postal freight.

Out of the 2,133 products inspected, 31.9 per cent of them (681 products which were equivalent to 1,860 bottles/units) were found to contain pharmaceutical ingredients or other substances illegal for use in dietary supplements. 

“In order to avoid customs detection and inspection, the products caught this time were wrapped in silver foil,”​ the MFDS said in a statement​.

In one particular case, the product Kamagra oral jelly was reported as vitamin C when test results showed that it contained sildenafil, a drug for ED treatment, and dapoxetin, a medicine for premature ejaculation. 

Kamagra oral jelly
Kamagra oral jelly © MFDS
American Health Bromelain
A product containing ED medicine tadalafil disguised as a bromelain supplement. © MFDS

In another case, a product containing tadalafil to treat ED and pulmonary arterial hypertension was placed inside a packaging that was labelled with terms such as ‘natural pineapple enzyme bromelain’ and was from the brand ‘American Health’.

“The outer packaging label was forged to look like a health functional food product and the actual contents were brought in using the ‘label-change’ method,” ​the regulator said.

Statistics

Out of the 681 problematic products, most of them contained sildenafil, tadalafil or melatonin – which are all classified as medicines and not ingredients for use in health functional foods in South Korea.

A breakdown shows that 26.7 per cent contained melatonin, another 18.4 per cent contained sildenafil and/or tadalafil.

Other substances not permitted in health functional foods included 5-hydroxytryptophan (5.4 per cent), club moss (3.7 per cent), senna leaf (3.7 per cent), L-citrulline (2.8 per cent), para-aminobenzoic acid (2.5 per cent), as well as cannabidiol (0.3 per cent) – which is classified as a narcotic ingredient.

Function wise, most of these products were meant as a sleep aid since they contained melatonin, while others were for sexual function, muscle strengthening, weight loss, skin and hair improvement.

The MFDS said it would continue to crackdown on such products.

Its other recent inspection was on e-commerce sites selling protein bars that made fake or exaggerated claims, such as fat reduction and muscle strength claims.

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