Four persons arrested for suspected illegal sale and possession of unregistered COVID-19 oral drugs (with photos)

     The Department of Health (DH) today (February 8) conducted joint operations with the Police against illegal sale of COVID-19 oral drugs.

     Upon intelligence, the DH conducted investigations and mounted joint operations with the Police against two retailers in Jordan for sale of COVID-19 oral drugs. During the operations, three men aged between 27 and 58 and a 29-year-old woman were arrested for suspected illegal sale or possession of unregistered pharmaceutical products and Part 1 poisons, namely Primovir and Molaz. The DH's investigation is continuing.

     According to the Pharmacy and Poisons Ordinance (Cap. 138), all pharmaceutical products must be registered with the Pharmacy and Poisons Board of Hong Kong before they can be legally sold in the market. Illegal sale or possession of unregistered pharmaceutical products or Part 1 poisons is a criminal offence. The maximum penalty for each offence is a fine of $100,000 and two years' imprisonment.

     Currently, only two types of COVID-19 oral drugs, namely Paxlovid (HK registration number: HK-67360 and HK-67683) and Molnupiravir (HK registration number: HK-67385), supplied in Hong Kong by two drug manufacturers (Pfizer Corporation Hong Kong Limited and Merck Sharp & Dohme (Asia) Ltd) have been registered as pharmaceutical products in Hong Kong in accordance with the Pharmacy and Poisons Regulations (Cap. 138A). At present, only these two pharmaceutical products are approved by the Board as registered oral drugs for COVID-19 treatment.

     A spokesman for the DH stressed that currently the two COVID-19 oral drugs could only be supplied to healthcare institutions and doctors in public and private sectors. Patients could only be prescribed the relevant drugs by registered medical practitioners when needed, and drug retail outlets cannot procure the relevant oral drugs from suppliers nor sell them to the public. Having considered factors such as patient's suitability, relevant contraindications and possible side effects of using the two registered COVID-19 oral drugs, the Board has thus imposed the above special restriction to the registration conditions.

     The DH has mechanism in place to monitor the sale of pharmaceutical products in the market, and will collect intelligence through various channels. In general, when suspected illegal sale or possession of unregistered pharmaceutical products is detected, the DH will immediately carry out investigations and conduct joint operations with other law enforcement agencies where necessary, and any irregularities so found will be dealt with in accordance with the laws. The DH and other law enforcement agencies will continue to strengthen inspections and enforcement actions to safeguard public health.

     The spokesman strongly urged members of the public not to buy or consume products of doubtful composition or from unknown sources. All registered pharmaceutical products should carry a Hong Kong registration number on the package in the format of "HK-XXXXX". The safety, quality and efficacy of unregistered pharmaceutical products are not guaranteed.

     People who have purchased the products concerned should stop using them immediately and consult healthcare professionals if in doubt or feeling unwell after use. They may submit the products to the Drug Office of the DH at Room 1801, Wu Chung House, 213 Queen's Road East, Wan Chai, during office hours for disposal.

Ends/Wednesday, February 8, 2023
Issued at HKT 18:30