Large cold-drug purchases prompt fears of narcotic use

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 21 April, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 21 April, 2009, 12:00am

Pharmacists have called for tighter controls over a drug commonly used to treat colds, after recent reports of suspiciously large purchases, with fears it might be used to make the drug Ice.

The Practising Pharmacists Association wants customers buying the drug pseudoephedrine to be required to register their names or identity cards. It issued a notice to its members yesterday asking them to watch out for requests for large amounts of pseudoephedrine, or drugs that contain it.

The move was made after the association received reports from members this month that some mainland travellers were buying large amounts of the drug, usually at pharmacies in North District.

Pseudoephedrine is a decongestant that shrinks blood vessels in the nasal passages and is commonly used to treat nasal and sinus congestion. It is easily available over the counter at pharmacies in Hong Kong, where its purchase does not require a doctor's prescription. It sells for about 50 cents per tablet.

Under the Pharmacy and Poisons Ordinance, pseudoephedrine is included in a list of poisons, but can be sold at registered pharmacies under the supervision or monitoring of a registered pharmacist.

Association president Iris Chang said: 'We heard from some of our members that some mainlanders had snapped up the drug at some North District pharmacies recently. 'In some cases, the customers asked for as many as 1,000 tablets. 'Since the drug can be a raw material in making the drug Ice, there is suspicion that some people might take the drug across the border to make Ice.'

The notice reads: 'Pharmacists are urged to exercise professional judgment when selling large quantities of pseudoephedrine-containing products so as to prevent inappropriate use of the drug substance.'

Ms Chang said that the pharmacists' association had raised the issue with the Department of Health. 'We shall report to the department in case of suspiciously bulky purchases. But we believe the government should tighten control over the drug, say, by requiring customers to register with their identity cards.'

Lau Oi-kwok, head of the General Chamber of Pharmacies, said that they were unaware of recent suspicious purchases. 'The sale of the drug needs to be supervised by a pharmacist,' Mr Lau said. 'No drug store staff can sell too many at a time. After all, we usually stock some 300 to 500 tablets in stores. I would be surprised if one can get 1,000 tablets at one store.'

A Department of Health spokesman said: 'Pharmacies are required to keep drug records. And we inspect drug stores at least twice a year.'

Customs said licences were needed to import or export pseudoephedrine products. Since 2004, there have been three smuggling cases. A total of 19kg of pseudoephedrine products were seized.

Dangerously cheap

Pseudoephedrine is a cold medicine some people fear is being used to make the drug Ice

One tablet can be bought for just: 50cents