Doctors blame lax controls

PUBLISHED : Friday, 08 September, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 08 September, 2006, 12:00am

The Medical Association has blamed a lack of government regulation for what it says is the rampant abuse of cough medicine containing codeine, a powerful painkiller.

It says the lure of higher profits has led drug companies to sell such cough medicines largely to community pharmacies, leaving clinics short of supplies. The association yesterday repeated its call for a ban on over-the-counter sales of cough remedies containing codeine.

Association president Choi Kin was speaking after talks with the Department of Health.

He said the department had told the association it had no intention of intervening in commercial operations. This amounted to 'collusion between the government and businessmen', Dr Choi said.

The number of registered cough syrup abusers rose from 291 in 2001 to 704 last year. The association argues one of the causes is loose rules on the sale of cough mixture containing codeine, which can be addictive.

Dr Choi said drug suppliers could make a HK$1,500 profit on every 3.6 litres of such cough syrup sold to pharmacies, but only HK$420 on sales to doctors or hospitals. Companies often forced doctors buying cough syrup to buy other medicines they did not need.

Faced with a shortage, doctors sometimes had to prescribe less effective substitutes, he said.

A departmental spokeswoman said it had stepped up outlet inspections to control abuse.