Patients who buy prescription-only antibiotics illegally over the counter from chemists are making it harder to defeat superbugs. Under the Antibiotics Ordinance, dispensaries cannot sell the drugs without a prescription. But a South China Morning Post reporter yesterday bought the common antibiotic ampicillin from a Quarry Bay dispensary, simply asking for some 'Red-Blacks', the drug's nickname from the colours of the capsule. The employee, who sold 10 tablets, said ampicillin was good for treating a sore throat. He did not ask to see a prescription nor did he query the intended use of the drug. Benjamin Kwong Yiu-sum, president of the Pharmaceutical Society of Hong Kong, said abuse of antibiotics among doctors and patients was a serious problem. 'Many doctors and patients have a misconception about antibiotics,' he said. 'They all use antibiotics as a cure-all, but it is not the case. 'For example, antibiotics are of no use for a common cold, yet some doctors just prescribe them to satisfy patients' expectations.' The overuse of antibiotics has led to the emergence of bacteria resistant to drugs. A Department of Health spokeswoman said ampicillin was one of four blacklisted antibiotics of which illegal sales were considered most serious because they are most commonly used. The others are amoxycillin, tetracycline and minocycline. Ampicillin and amoxycillin are common antibiotics for colds and flu, while tetracyclin and minocycline are for general respiratory tract infections as well as pimples. The department makes about 40 successful prosecutions for illegal possession or sale of antibiotics each year. The maximum penalty is a $30,000 fine and one-year jail term. The spokeswoman said the department had updated a list of drug-resistant bacteria for doctors. She called on doctors and patients to use antibiotics more carefully. 'Patients have to know there are no quick cures.'