Prescription-free pills finding sparks review

PUBLISHED : Friday, 23 July, 1999, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 23 July, 1999, 12:00am

Detective work by a doctor concerned at the availability of supposedly restricted drugs has spurred health officials to review their monitoring system.

The Department of Health said last night it had increased the number of pharmacy inspectors in recent years, but would discuss other action in light of the doctor's findings.

A department spokesman said information collected in undercover purchases from several Kowloon pharmacies would be reviewed by the Pharmacy and Poisons Board.

The South China Morning Post reported yesterday that Dr Gabriel Choi Kin, himself a member of the board, found that staff posing as patients were able to buy an alarming range of drugs without prescriptions.

'Patients' were not warned of possible side-effects, nor asked what other medicine they were taking when dangerous drug combinations were possible.

The department said the number of inspectors had risen from 11 in 1994 to 28 since last year. They conducted an average of two spot checks a year on each pharmacy, during which each outlet's records were inspected.

'Those with a prior record of non-compliance are inspected more frequently,' the spokesman said.

He said test purchases, in which 'patients' tried to buy prescription-only drugs with no prescription, were also done.

Last year, more than 9,000 such tests led to 35 successful prosecutions.

'Within the present resources we will try to step up inspections,' the spokesman said.

'Dr Choi's information has been submitted and will be discussed by the Pharmacy and Poisons Board.' The maximum penalty under the Pharmacy and Poisons Ordinance is a $100,000 fine and two years' jail.

Convicted pharmacists can then face disciplinary action by the board.