There’s a long, very scary, article in the New York Times about drug ingredient counterfeiting. It focuses on several mass poisonings in recent years that turn out to have been caused by the substitution of diethylene glycol– an industrial solvent and ingredient in antifreeze– for more expensive, but non-lethal, syrups in medicines.

Over the years, the poison has been loaded into all varieties of medicine — cough syrup, fever medication, injectable drugs — a result of counterfeiters who profit by substituting the sweet-tasting solvent for a safe, more expensive syrup, usually glycerin, commonly used in drugs, food, toothpaste and other products.

Toxic syrup has figured in at least eight mass poisonings around the world in the past two decades. Researchers estimate that thousands have died. In many cases, the precise origin of the poison has never been determined. But records and interviews show that in three of the last four cases it was made in China, a major source of counterfeit drugs.

An examination of the two poisoning cases last year — in Panama and earlier in China — shows how China’s safety regulations have lagged behind its growing role as low-cost supplier to the world. It also demonstrates how a poorly policed chain of traders in country after country allows counterfeit medicine to contaminate the global market.

And at the end of the article, there’s this nice tidbit:

One lingering mystery involves the name of the product made by the Taixing Glycerine Factory. The factory had called its syrup “TD” glycerin. The letters TD were in virtually all the shipping documents. What did TD mean?…

Yuan Kailin, a former salesman for the factory , said he knew what the TD meant…. TD stood for the Chinese word “tidai” (pronounced tee-die), said Mr. Yuan, who left his job in 1998 and still lives about a mile from the factory.

In Chinese, tidai means substitute. A clue that might have revealed the poison, the counterfeit product, was hiding in plain sight.

It was in the product name.

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