Addict drank more than 3,800 bottles of cough syrup, which he got from doctor
From 2002 to 2010, he survived on just one meal a day.
For the rest of the day, Mr Brian Tan drank cough mixture and at least six cans of soft drinks.
In those eight years, he consumed at least 345 litres - roughly 120ml a day - of cough mixture, which contains the addictive ingredient, codeine. That's more than 3,833 of the usual 90ml prescription bottles.
After getting clean of his cough syrup addiction for almost five years now, Mr Tan, 30, agreed to share his experience with The New Paper.
This is in the wake of a doctor being stripped of his medical licence for illegally selling 3,500 litres of cough syrup to three patients.
Mr Tan's chronic addiction could have led to serious health problems had it not been for the treatment he received from The New Charis Mission halfway house.
The head chef said: "I thought since clinics sell cough syrup, then it's no big deal, it's harmless. But I was wrong."
Doctors TNP spoke to warned of the dangers of such excessive consumption.
"Taking 120ml of cough syrup a day for one month is already excessive, let alone eight years," said Dr Khoo Yong Hak, a doctor in private practice.
"Don't forget that codeine is a milder form of opium. Any prolonged use of painkillers can damage your organs and cause mental changes."
Mr Tan's love for the sweet, brown liquid robbed him of a career.
He was 18 when curiosity drove him to down a 60ml bottle of cough syrup his friend had bought for $6 at Geylang.
After completing his national service, he became a loan shark runner.
"My need to get high on codeine prevented me from keeping a proper job," said Mr Tan. The longest job he managed to hold was as a cook for 16 months.
"If I was not getting high, I was scouting clinics to find my next two bottles of cough syrup.
"I even asked my restaurant boss to reduce my full-time status to part-time status so I would have enough time to get high before starting work."
His relationship with his parents and two younger sisters also became strained.
The ITE graduate said: "They wanted to disown me. I lost count of the number of chances my parents gave me.
"My father even knelt on the floor and begged me to stop my addiction."
Mr Tan gave in and sought help at The New Charis Mission in July 2010.
He admitted it was the wisest decision he had ever made.
His cough syrup addiction had become heavier after he was caught by the authorities in 2007 for abusing ecstasy and was given two years' probation.
The years of abuse also took a toll on Mr Tan's back and kidneys.
But he never thought of the consequences when experiencing the "kick".
"It feels like you're floating," he said.
"The high lasts two to three hours. After that, you become sleepy and lazy."
Mr Tan bought most of his cough syrup from clinics.
Also known as Dhasedyl, the cough mixture is prized for its "purity" compared to the watered-down versions sold on the black market.
"Mondays to Fridays, I went to the clinics for Dhasedyl," said Mr Tan. "On weekends, I went to the black market in Geylang."
UNDER THE TABLE
While most clinics sold him only two 90ml bottles each fortnightly visit, one doctor sold him "under the table" cough syrup.
Said Mr Tan: "He was a doctor I saw regularly. He would tell me to get two bottles of cough syrup at the counter after his consultation. But from his drawer, he would take out five more bottles to sell to me."
In 2007, the doctor charged Mr Tan $25 for each 120ml bottle of cough mixture. Mr Tan estimated spending more than $10,000 during his eight-year daze.
Today, he said he has learnt not to let temptation overwhelm him.
His mentor at The New Charis Mission, Pastor Don Wong, said he saw the change in Mr Tan's mindset about a year after he became a resident at the halfway house.
Said Pastor Wong: "I saw that he had an interest in cooking, so I encouraged him to set a target.
"When addicts don't have hope for the future, they're likely to turn to their old ways."
Mr Tan has a supportive girlfriend and talks to his family regularly.
At work, he leads a group of cooks who specialise in Western cuisine.
He said: "I don't ever want to go back to that life of cheating, lying and stealing from people closest to me, only to feed my addiction.
"It's too costly if I lose their trust."
Even if he drinks three 120ml bottles a day, that's more than 800 litres in eight years. Codeine is an opiate. So the effects are like the other opiates such as heroin and morphine.
- Psychiatrist Tommy Tan, who has worked with people with addictions, said cough syrup addicts like Mr Brian Tan tend to under-declare how much they consume and that it is highly likely that he had more
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