More than a third of chemists selling 'grey market' drugs
More than a third of the 300 registered pharmacies in Hong Kong are selling parallel-import drugs that pose potential health risks, customers were warned yesterday.
The executive director of the Hong Kong Association of the Pharmaceutical Industry, Robert Siu Shu-yok, said the quality of parallel-imported drugs, which are unregistered, was usually poorer than official drugs.
'Parallel-imported drugs are always exposed to high temperature and sunlight in transport and storage. Drugs are temperature-sensitive and the heat can lead to loss of efficacy and side effects,' he said.
Parallel importing refers to genuine goods imported from a source other than a licensed agent of the manufacturer. It is also called the 'grey market'.
Mr Siu said registered drugs were shipped and stored in air-conditioned environments between 15 and 30 degrees Celsius.
But parallel imported drugs could be exposed to 60 degrees Celsius as illegal importers wanted to cut the cost of air-conditioning containers.
The association has received about 20 reports from official agents of registered pharmacies selling parallel-import drugs in the past 12 months. More than 100 pharmacies were involved.
But Mr Siu said they were not empowered to disclose the names of suspected pharmacies. 'We can only report cases to the Health Department and urge them to take action,' he said.
He reminded consumers that expensive and popular drugs such as diet pills were targets for parallel importers. Unregistered drugs will not have Chinese lettering or Hong Kong registration numbers on the package.
A Health Department spokeswoman said they carried out frequent inspections. 'A total of 6,530 inspections were carried out in pharmacies and dispensaries last year,' she said. Twenty pharmacies had been convicted of possession and sale of unregistered drugs in 1999, compared with 25 last year.
But Mr Siu urged the department to increase manpower for inspections and called for new laws to monitor pharmacists. 'Now only the owner of pharmacies will be punished,' he said. 'But we think the pharmacists should also be struck off. In the long-term it is the most effective means to eliminate parallel imported drugs.'
Clarence Wong Pak-shing, owner of C&P Pharmacy, said the wholesale price of parallel drugs was on average $10 to $20 cheaper than registered drugs.
'Some customers prefer unregistered drugs because they are cheaper. They don't care about the potential danger,' he said.
Mr Wong said he would not sell parallel-import drugs for fear of getting caught.
'The inspectors come three or four times a year. Being caught selling unregistered drugs means great trouble,' he said.