In China, Desperate Patients Smuggle Drugs. Or Make Their Own.

In China, Desperate Patients Smuggle Drugs. Or Make Their Own.


In many ways, they resemble medical websites in other countries. Then there are the posts on how to make drugs yourself. They direct at-home drugmakers to buy the ingredients online, on marketplaces run by Alibaba Group, the e-commerce giant, and elsewhere. Dozens of suppliers offer free samples and promise fast delivery.

“Our products’ quality better than the standard quality in the market,” advertised Xian Health Biochem Technology, which was selling the ingredients for vandetanib, a cancer drug.

Sellers mail the ingredients out in envelopes or, for those with bigger orders, in drums.

Alibaba abides by local laws and has “rules and systems in place” that help it identify listings that infringe on its policies, a spokeswoman said in an email.

Desperate to help his mother, Mr. Zhang did a basic search: “What to do after patient develops drug resistance on Iressa?” He happened upon “Dances With Cancer” and an active participant and a longtime cancer patient called “Bean Spirit,” who wrote a manual on how to make drugs at home.

Mr. Zhang, who previously worked at a pharmaceutical factory but was not involved in making drugs, started on his own version. He bought the ingredients for AstraZeneca’s Tagrisso, a lung cancer drug. He spent just over $150 for a month’s worth of ingredients, plastic capsules and an electronic scale.

“The raw ingredients are worth more than the price of gold,” he said.

When the drugs stopped working for his mother, Mr. Zhang began making others. He started having sleepless nights, worried that he would not be able to find the ingredients each time a drug stopped working.

“You don’t know whether the thing that’s ahead of you is a pit or a road,” he said, wiping tears off his face. “But you must go forward. You can’t stop.”



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