A general practitioner has been sentenced to two years in prison and fined a total of S$130,000 for the illegal sale of 25,765 bottles of codeine cough mixture– one of the highest quantities of illegal codeine sales prosecuted by the Health Sciences Authority (HSA).

Dr Tan Gek Young, who runs Meridian Polyclinic and Surgery in Bedok North, made over S$600,000 by selling approximately 57 bottles of the standard 90ml cough mixture preparation a day over a span of 15 months between January 2014 and June 2015.

Doctor resumed illicit sale of cough mixture despite HSA raid

The 61-year-old doctor is well known among drug abusers to whom he would dispense bottles of cough syrup upon request, charging S$25 to S$30 for each 90ml bottle. He also started selling 3.8-litre canisters of cough mixtures to four individuals who frequented his clinic, with each pricing between S$1,000 to S$1,100.

Tan’s clinic was raided by the HSA and the Central Narcotics Bureau in July 2014, however, the unruly doctor returned to inappropriate prescription of codeine after a mere three months.

"This is clearly one of the more serious aggravating features of this case," said District Judge Lim Tse Haw.

Tan was sentenced on 20 charges of selling cough syrup and canisters, and for failure to record proper documentations of his supply of cough syrup with codeine and promethazine.

A bail of S$60,000 was offered to Tan, pending his appeal.

Judge: Stricter laws needed to tackle illegal drug prescription

This is not the first time Tan was involved in such offence.

Back in 2010, the general practitioner pleaded guilty to 22 charges of professional misconduct imposed by the Singapore Medical Council for inappropriate drug prescriptions, and was served a six-month suspension from practice in addition to a S$5,000 fine. He was also censured by the SMC and ordered to provide a written undertaking not to repeat similar conduct.

"In the circumstances, a deterrent sentence is clearly called for. I further agree with the prosecution that the previous sentences imposed for similar offences are no longer sufficient to deter this very lucrative illicit trade, especially one committed by a medical doctor,'' said Judge Lim.

“Hence, when a doctor betrays this trust and indiscriminately sells such cough preparations to drug addicts because of the lucrative nature of the illegal sales, the law must come down hard on such a black sheep of this honourable profession.”

Despite law enforcements on the illegal sale of poisons, the illicit sale of codeine cough mixtures have increased from 44 cases in 2008 to 85 cases in 2014.

As of November 2016, stricter penalties have been enforced and offenders found guilty of unlawful trade of codeine cough preparations can be fined up to S$50,000 – five times more than the previous penalty – and a prison sentence for up to two years under the Health Products Act.

"With the higher penalties... we hope that a strong deterrent message is sent to those who are thinking of profiting from the illegal sale or supply of such products,” Dr Dorothy Toh, the acting group director of the health products regulation group under HSA, said at the time. MIMS

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