Australians turn up the Heat on Pan
Breaking news as this issue goes to press (Waikato Times, April 30 and elsewhere) is the recall by Australia’s Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) of 219 products manufactured by Pan Pharmaceuticals. This is the biggest recall of medical products in Australia’s history; the TGA has also withdrawn Pan’s licence for six months.
Pan is Australia’s largest contract manufacturer of herbal, vitamin and nutritional supplements, representing 70 per cent of the Australian complementary medicine market and exporting to dozens of countries. It also makes some over-the-counter medicines including paracetamol, codeine, antihistamines and pseudo-ephedrine.
TGA principal medical adviser John McEwen said other products manufactured by Pan but sold under different brand names would be added to the list as they were discovered. Dr McEwen said Pan lost its licence following evidence of substitution of ingredients, manipulation of test results and substandard manufacturing pro-cesses.
Consumers have been warned not to take any vitamins or herbal supplements and even to check the label of headache pills.
The TGA said it was considering laying criminal charges as it continued the investigation.
Equipment at Pan’s headquarters in Sydney was not cleaned between batches, potentially contaminating products.
The investigation was sparked by a travel sickness pill, Travacalm, which the TGA said had sent 19 people to hospital and caused 87 adverse reactions.
“Some people were very, very ill. They tried to jump out of planes, off ships and things like that because of the hallucinatory effect,” federal parliamentary health secretary Trish Worth said. “I’ve been reliably informed it was fortunate nobody died.”
She said Pan’s vitamin A and natural remedy teething gels could be very harmful to pregnant women and children.
The Complementary Health-care Council said the entire health industry would be hurt by a loss of public confidence. The council’s technical director, Ian Crosthwaite, said manufacturers were holding crisis meetings and seeking an urgent meeting with the TGA to stop any further recalls. But the TGA’s Dr McEwen, said: “There is a clear risk with these products of serious injury … the longer we leave these products in the market the risk grows.
Pan recorded a $A13.6 million ($NZ15.30 million) profit last financial year, however founder James Selim saw his personal wealth of $A210 million collapse by $A26 million as shares plunged after the recall.
The Australian Stock Exchange is demanding answers as to why Pan failed to call for a trading halt in its shares as soon as it learned its licence had been suspended.
Sections of the market had the news of the licence suspension for 30 minutes before trading was halted.
A report by ECM Research on Pan Pharmaceuticals in September last year said about 40 per cent of its sales were exported and New Zealand was the most important destination, followed by Asia and Europe. The New Zealand market accounted for about a third of its market revenue.
The report also said Pan was supplying SAM-e, a natural antidepressant, into Australia and New Zealand. SAM-e is listed in advertisements for product recall. Other Pan products sold in New Zealand include libido enhancer Horny Goat Weed.
Great Balls of Fire
Thai scientists are to launch a probe into a famous fireball phenomenon occurring in the Mekong River once a year in the country’s north, (Sydney Morning Herald, April 14). Every year on the first full moon of the 11th lunar month, which coincides with the end of Buddhist Lent, hundreds of red, pink and orange fireballs soar up into the sky from the Mekong, drawing crowds of spectators.
The event known as Naga’s Fireballs, which has been reported by locals for generations, has long mystified scientists. Now nine experts are to start collecting soil and water samples from the areas where the fireballs appear to originate, deputy permanent secretary of the Ministry of Science and Technology, Saksit Tridech, told the Bangkok Post.
“We are quite sure the fireballs are a natural phenomena,” he reportedly said, adding that the team’s initial assumption was that the fireballs were caused by methane and nitrogen. Decomposition of accumulated plant and animal remains on the bottom of the Mekong could lead to the release of the gases, which rise to the surface of the water when the sun heats the water to a certain temperature, Saksit said.
Legend, however, says the flames come from a mythical Naga, or serpent, living in the Mekong river. “Society needs an explanation for this phenomenon,” said Saksit.
Claims by a television program last year that the fireballs were actually caused by tracer bullets fired by Laotian soldiers across the border caused uproar among locals, who called the suggestion insulting.
Abductees Stressed Out
People who claim to have been abducted by aliens suffer many of the same trauma symptoms as Vietnam veterans and World Trade Centre survivors, even though their memories are not real (Dominion Post, February 19).
A Harvard University team found that when recalling experiences they show many of the physical and psychological effects normally seen in post-traumatic stress disorder, including nightmares, anxiety, racing heartbeats and sweating palms.
The team suggests most abductees are not mentally ill and genuinely believe they have been kidnapped, but are experiencing false memories induced by sleep paralysis. This affects 30 per cent of the population at some stage in their lives, and occurs when a patient wakes during rapid eye movement sleep, when dreaming takes place and the entire body is paralysed with the exception of the eyes. It can often lead to frightening visions referred to as hypnopompic (upon awakening) hallucinations as elements of a dream impinge on wakefulness.
Sufferers usually report being unable to move while seeing shadowy figures around their beds, feeling electric currents coursing through their bodies, or levitating. The phenomenon probably explains the witch crazes of the 16th and 17th centuries, ghost sightings and other paranormal events, says Harvard psychology professor Richard McNally.
“Today, in Cambridge, Massachusetts, it’s interpreted as abduction by space aliens.”
All 10 abductees in the study recounted reasonably consistent details of their experiences, but these were almost certainly culturally determined. “Their memories were of being subjected to sexual and medical probing on spaceships. I certainly think we can say the X-Files probably helped with all that.”
Extraterrestrial Culture Day
The good folk in Roswell, New Mexico, who would no doubt dismiss the above item, can now celebrate every second Tuesday in February as “Extraterrestrial Culture Day”, after a local lawmaker’s proposal won House approval (Dominion Post, 25 March). Some scoffed at the idea, but memorial sponsor Republican Dan Foley said life on other planets — if you believe in it — surely has its own set of cultural beliefs. He claims aliens have contributed to recognition of New Mexico, and he wants a copy sent into space as a token of peace.
Calling All Spoon-benders
Mind readers, telepaths and anyone who attracts ghosts have been invited to participate in a new course at Griffith University in Australia (Dominion Post, February 21). Senior lecturer Martin Bridgstock says the subject, Scepticism, Science and the Paranormal, will give students the opportunity to study areas of science made famous by television shows such as The X-Files and The Twilight Zone.
Dr Bridgstock said he decided on the subject because he was impressed by the large number of people he encountered who believed in the paranormal. Opinion polls showed a majority of the population believed in psychic healing, while substantial minorities believed in astrology, mind-reading, UFOs and ghosts.
He said he would welcome anyone who approached the university claiming paranormal powers. “I would get the class together and I would invite this person to say exactly what he or she thinks they can do. Then we would try to devise an experiment which would enable that person to show if in fact they could do it under tightly controlled conditions.”