THE death of a farmer has prompted a Coroner's jury to call on the Government to impose strict controls on Chinese medicine. The jury made the recommendation in the case of Choi Mei-to, 54, who died about 10 hours after he took a potion of Chinese herbs prescribed by Chinese herbalist Lee Tai-wah in Yuen Long to cure his chest pains on October 1, 1992. Thirty minutes after he took the herbs at his home, Choi started vomiting and convulsing. He was sent to Pok Oi Hospital in the afternoon and died at 9.15 pm. While returning a verdict of death by misadventure, the jurors agreed on a balance of probability that the cause of death was aconite plant poisoning. This was despite a forensic pathologist's finding that the medical cause of death was adverse effects of phenytoin (an anti-convulsion drug used for heart rhythm disorders). A medical expert said the herb prescription sheet included three items of aconite. The recommended control over the processing, regulation and prescription of Chinese medicine was welcomed by Dr Paul But, director of the Chinese Medicinal Research Centre of the Chinese University of Hong Kong, and Choi's wife, Yeung Wan-ching, 57. Ms Yeung believed both aconite and phenytoin might have played a part in her husband's death but she suspected the Chinese herbs had contributed more towards his death. The jury also endorsed Dr But's recommendations that health authorities and the public should be alerted to the risk of Chinese medicine, and that suspected herbal poisonings should be reported to his centre promptly. Dr But, a member of a government working party on Chinese medicine, said it was not until seven months after Choi's death that the coroner's office referred the case to his centre, making it difficult to collect samples from the same stock of Chinese herbs for testing. A study should also be launched to investigate whether the Government Laboratory needed to improve its equipment or expertise in tests on Chinese medicine, the jury said. Dr But suggested more personnel in the Government Laboratory should be dedicated to developing or adopting protocols for identification of toxic components in Chinese herbs. He said his centre had recently applied for funding for a collaborative programme on Chinese medicine with other local tertiary institutions. One of the proposed tasks was to provide a herbal poisoning report service. There have been three documented cases of death by aconite poisoning in Hong Kong, including this case. Dr But said the working party would reconvene on September 17 to issue a report on Chinese medicine.