Opioid painkiller sales boom as lung cancer takes its toll - China’s latest business and technology news - SupChina

Opioid painkiller sales boom as lung cancer takes its toll – China’s latest business and technology news


The market for opioid painkillers is booming in China, the Financial Times reports (paywall), as caution over addiction dating back to the Opium Wars — when more than one in four adult males got hooked on opium imported by the British — has eased and government prescription guidelines have been updated. Sales of painkillers rose 20 percent in China in 2016, more than twice the rate of the overall drug market.

What else is behind the rise?

  • Cancer rates are rising, particularly lung cancer as air pollution takes its toll. Opioid painkillers are commonly prescribed for managing chronic pain.
  • Chinese have spent more on dental surgery, and scheduled more of other kinds of surgical procedures, also adding to demand.
  • Foreign drug companies, particularly from the U.S., where they face decreased growth in profits as a backlash to America’s opioid epidemic, are advertising in hospitals. FT reports that “more than 6,000 hospitals across China viewed online lectures hosted by Mundipharma’s platform to promote pain treatment some 64,000 times.” Mundipharma produces OxyContin, a brand of painkiller particularly notorious for contributing to dependency and overdose in the United States.

The FT article did not comment on implications of a possible black market in China for OxyContin.

Other recent news on China’s booming drug sales:

  • Caixin reports that third-party pharmacies are getting a boost from government regulations that eliminate surcharges from hospital pharmacies, where patients had previously been directed to pick up their prescriptions. Pharmacies outside of hospitals are expected to see sales rise 10-15 percent each year through 2020, and online drug sales are expected to grow 50 percent annually through 2020.
  • Huahai Pharmaceutical is investing in a 1 billion yuan ($153 million) biopharmaceutical industrial park in Hangzhou to meet the rising demand for drugs, according to Caixin. Huahai’s primary business is making the active ingredients of drugs for other companies to use.

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Lucas Niewenhuis

Lucas Niewenhuis is an associate editor at SupChina who helps curate daily news and produce the company's newsletter, app, and website content. Previously, Lucas researched China-Africa relations at the Social Science Research Council and interned at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York. He has studied Chinese language and culture in Shanghai and Beijing, and is a graduate of the University of Michigan.