News

GREED MAKES SOME DOCTORS ABANDON ETHICS

It's an unethical yet lucrative business.

In the worst case so far, a 41-year-old general practitioner made a $500,000 profit in four months when he supplied 3,500 litres of cough syrup containing codeine to three patients.

The Health Sciences Authority (HSA) has not disclosed the identity of the doctor.

In 2012, another doctor, Ho Thong Chew (below), was fined $60,000 and jailed 7½ months on 12 counts of selling cough syrup wholesale without a licence.

Earlier this month, the Singapore Medical Council said Ho, 44, had been removed from the Register of Medical Practitioners with effect from Jan 18.

Since 2012, six doctors have landed in trouble for selling cough syrup to syndicates or addicts.

One doctor was jailed while two others were fined. Three more doctors await their fate - two have been charged and the third is being investigated.

An HSA spokesman said the doctors' activities were a "reprehensible crime" in a report in The Straits Times on Feb 1.

Associate Professor Chan Cheng Leng, deputy group director of health products regulation, said: "These doctors got involved out of greed as it's a fast way of making money.

"They are the black sheep in the medical community."

The Central Narcotics Bureau (CNB) told The New Paper that it would continue to work closely with HSA to tackle the illegal sale of cough mixtures.

A CNB spokesman said: "The inappropriate use of medications can have serious consequences to one's health and may lead to dependence.

"The increased non-medical use of such medications can result in greater demand for these medications, illicit diversion to non-medical use, and production of counterfeit drugs to meet this demand."

While doctors pay up to $50 for a 3.8-litre canister from pharmaceutical companies, the black market price for the same quantity is $1,100.

Codeine is listed as a Class B drug under the Misuse of Drugs Act.

Only doctors and licensed pharmacists are allowed to sell cough medicine containing codeine, limiting a patient to 240ml per visit.

TNP understands that cough syrup is repackaged into smaller bottles of between 60ml and 120ml for black market consumption.

A 90ml bottle fetches close to $30 in places like Geylang and Chinatown.

The increased non-medical use of such medications can result in greater demand for these medications, illicit diversion to non-medical use, and production of counterfeit drugs to meet this demand.

- Central Narcotics Bureau spokesman