HSA warns public against potent western medications after illegal products lead consumers to ICU

Illegal medication prevalent in Singapore, HSA reports several cases of adverse side-effects

Singapore medicine
The two medicines banned by HSA HSA

The Health Sciences Authority (HSA) has issued a warning to the public about two 'health products' after a middle-aged woman was admitted to the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) and a woman in her 20s suffered chemical burns on her face.

The two products are URE Tonic Herbal Traditional and RDL Hydroquinone Tretinoin Babyface Solution 3. Both of them contained western ingredients which are banned in Singapore, said the HSA in a statement on Monday, January 22.

The first victim, a woman in her 50s, had bought the URE Tonic from a medical practitioner in Malaysia. She has been consuming the solution daily for over a year. Now, it has been revealed that the tonic contains dexamethasone, which is a strong steroid.

The victim is now undergoing outpatient care after being admitted to the ICU for developing Cushing's syndrome, a side-effect disease of long-term steroid intake. She had been suffering from persistent low blood pressure and weak immunity for a long time, which resulted in pneumonia and sepsis.

The second victim in the recent incidents is a girl in her 20s, had visited a beauty parlour called Anita iBrow in Orchard Road for a make-up session. There, she was given the facial solution RDL Hydroquinone Tretinoin Babyface Solution 3 for skin treatment. The ingredients of this solution, hydroquinone and tretinoin, must not be used without medical supervision.

The beautician, who is now assisting the investigation into this solution, said that she had purchased the products from an online platform. It came in two unlabelled bottles marked as "magic water" for skin-brightening, reports Channel NewsAsia.

After applying it for three days, the woman experienced chemical burns and skin peeling on her face, for which she had to consult a skin specialist. The HSA has directed the beautician to stop storing the solution and also urged people not to use unlabelled beauty products from Anita iBrow.

HSA had previously banned two other medicines, 'WAN LING REN SEM CHIN KUO PILL' ('金龍牌萬靈人参筋骨丸') and 'CHONG CAO DAN'('人参樹商標虫草活絡丹'), for containing the same steroid, hexamethasone. These were purchased in Malaysia and had also led to breathing difficulties and the hospitalization of two consumers. Incidentally, these compounds have not been detected in local medicines yet. The health authority says that they contain potent western ingredients which are not meant to be used in medicines of this region.

Similarly, HSA had warned the public not to buy or consume unlabelled and illegal pills suppiled by Samsudin Traditional Massager, a company run by an Indian masseur in Tek Whye Lane, after a consumer had to be hospitalized following consumption of the said medicines.

It was later found that they contained undeclared components like dexamethasone, frusemide (a diuretic that helps the body get rid of excess fluid) and chlorpheniramine (an anti-allergenic pill).

In another such incident, HSA had alerted Singaporeans to stay away from three bodybuilding products that contained chemicals yet unapproved for medicinal use in the country. The products, sold online by Enhanced Athlete Singapore, were said to cause cancers in animal studies.

"Avoid buying or using unlabelled health products and be wary of products that promise quick and miraculous results. Such products may contain harmful ingredients which can cause serious health effects," advised HSA.

Another warning has been issued to users of URE Tonic Herbal Traditional to see a doctor for the discontinuation of steroids as it may result in severe withdrawal symptoms.

The HSA has stated that anyone who supplies illegal health products can be prosecuted and if convicted, they face three years' jail term and/or S$100,000 fine.

Anyone with information on the sale and supply of these illegal products is invited to contact HSA's Enforcement Branch at 68663485 or hsa_is@hsa.gov.sg.