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LCQ16: Unregistered drugs

    Following is a question by the Hon Lau Kong-wah and a written reply by the Secretary for Food and Health, Dr York Chow, in the Legislative Council today (January 30):


     Regarding the sale of weight-loss drugs containing unregistered drug ingredients by slimming service providers and the prescription of such drugs by medical practitioners, will the Government inform this Council whether:

(a) over the past two years, the relevant authorities had deployed staff to carry out regular inspections of all Chinese and western medicine clinics to check if they were in possession of unregistered drugs; and of the number of cases of unregistered drugs being found during the inspections, the types of drugs involved, and how such cases were handled;

(b) it has assessed if the situation of slimming service providers selling and medical practitioners prescribing weight-loss drugs containing unregistered drug ingredients is serious at present;

(c) measures have been put in place to enhance consumers' awareness of the hazards of weight-loss drugs; and

(d) it has considered stepping up regulation of clinics operating within the outlets of slimming service providers?


Madam President,

(a) We have all along been very concerned about the threats posed by unregistered drugs to public health. Therefore, the Department of Health (DH) conducts regular inspections at suspicious sites or premises and, acting on intelligence, carry out inspections at Chinese and western medicine clinics.

     Over the past two years, the DH inspected a total of 35 western medicine clinics and 10 Chinese medicine clinics. Among them, one western medicine clinic and seven Chinese medicine clinics were found to be in possession of unregistered drugs and suspected to have contravened the provisions against possession or sale of unregistered drugs under the Pharmacy and Poisons Ordinance.

     The DH will consult the Department of Justice on such cases as to whether prosecution will be instituted. To date, the western medicine practitioner involved in the case mentioned above was convicted and fined $7,000 by the court. The unregistered drugs involved in the case were tetracycline and chlorampheniool. Besides, two Chinese medicine practitioners were also convicted and fined $2,500 and $4,000 respectively. The unregistered drugs involved in the cases included dexamethasoni, lignocaine, glyburide, phenformin, diclofenac, phenergan, aminophylline and carbetapentane.

     Under the established procedure, the DH will forward a list of western medicine practitioners and Chinese medicine practitioners convicted by the court to the Medical Council of Hong Kong (HKMC) and the Chinese Medicine Council of Hong Kong for follow up under the Medical Registration Ordinance and the Chinese Medicine Ordinance respectively.

(b) Although there is no clear evidence at this stage showing the use of unregistered drugs by medical practitioners in their prescription of weight-loss drugs during their consultation at slimming service providers or during their private practise, the DH will continue to closely monitor the issue.

(c) To safeguard public health, the DH has always advised members of the public to achieve and maintain a suitable body weight through balanced diet and adequate exercise, and explained to them that an excessive loss of body weight may cause problems such as malnutrition, osteoporosis and reduction in immunity. In any case, they should understand the effects and adverse reaction of the drugs.

     Whenever the DH finds any slimming products, which have not been registered as pharmaceutical products, to have been adulterated with western drug ingredients, the DH will institute prosecutions or issue written warnings, make public announcements about the problematic products, and remind the public about their adverse reaction. In addition, the DH will continue to work with the Consumer Council on the publicity front so as to raise public awareness about slimming products and enable consumers to make informed choices.

     On the other hand, medical practitioners have to uphold their professional conduct and maintain a high level of ethical standards by explaining to patients the adverse reaction of weight-loss drugs. The HKMC's Professional Code and Conduct for the Guidance of Registered Medical Practitioners stipulates that a doctor shall always bear in mind the obligation of preserving human life. When providing medical care which might have the effect of weakening the physical and mental condition of the patient, a doctor shall act only in the patient's interest. The Professional Code also regulates doctors' practise of prescribing and dispensing drugs.

(d) The regulatory regime for medical practitioners in Hong Kong focuses on regulating the medical practitioners themselves rather than the premises where they practise. As such, when opening clinics, medical practitioners only need to obtain business registration certificates and are not subject to other specific regulations. The HKMC is empowered by the Medical Registration Ordinance to register medical practitioners, conduct licensing examinations and exercise disciplinary functions. Medical practitioners bear professional responsibility for the services they provide to their patients regardless of whether the clinics are owned by the medical practitioners themselves or by other people who are not health care personnel. To protect public interest, the HKMC may take disciplinary actions against non-compliant medical practitioners.

     Besides, the DH will continue its efforts in organising talks for medical practitioners to explain to them the requirements of the Pharmacy and Poisons Ordinance and Dangerous Drugs Ordinance, such as the requirements on drug storage and record keeping. In particular, medical practitioners are reminded that they should only prescribe and dispense registered drugs.

Ends/Wednesday, January 30, 2008
Issued at HKT 15:07


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