A registered pharmacist was jailed for eight months and three weeks on Wednesday for illegally selling codeine-based cough syrup to customers and falsifying the records in Singapore.
District Judge Jasvender Kaur said William Woo Tat Meng, who is the sole proprietor of Community Pharmacy at Bukit Timah Plaza, had "encouraged and facilitated" codeine abuse by unreservedly supplying Dhasedyl syrup to customers. He was "well aware codeine is addictive and abused by drug addicts" in between hits.
Under the Poisons Act, Codeine has been listed as a poison and prolonged abuse of such a drug can lead to addiction. Codeine side-effects include hallucinations and vomiting. A pharmacist cannot sell more than 240 millilitres of codeine-based cough syrup to a customer on any one occasion under the Poisons Rules.
Woo sold 220,440 bottles containing more than 2,450 litres of Dhasedyl syrup to customers over a period of nearly two years, from May 2013 until April 2015. Preosecutors said he made a profit of at least S$244,529.
The court heard that Woo was aware of this law and yet he sold more than what's allowed. He also did not keep proper records of customers' particulars and went ahead to falsify their details so that he would have records to show if the authorities came for investigation.
On March 26, 2015, the Heath Sciences Authority (HSA) discovered that Woo had been ordering large quantities of Dhasedyl syrup from a pharmaceutical company named Drug Houses of Australia (now known as Actavis).
Last month, he pleaded guilty for two counts under the Poisons Rules and one count for giving false information to the authorities. However, he initially denied any wrongdoing.
The pharmacy was kept under surveillance, and on Apr 23 the HSA officers stopped a Malaysian customer, who was leaving Woo's shop with 14 bottles containing 1.68 litres of Dhasedyl syrup that was seven times the limit prescribed by law.
When asked, the customer told the authorities that he had been buying this Dhasedyl syrup from Woo since he moved to Singapore in 2000. He said that his friends told him that he could buy cough syrup from Community Pharmacy "easily", at S$18 to S$20 a bottle.
The authorities said later Woo admitted that he had been selling Dhasedyl syrup this way for the past 10 years. He also admitted to falsifying his dispensing ledger and keeping fake details to avoid HSA investigation.
"Pharmacies are legally allowed to purchase poisons in large quantities. They are trusted to conduct their business with the most scrupulous care and propriety when it comes to the dispensing of poisons", Judge Kaur told Channel NewsAsia.
The judge also added: "This is a very serious offence for a pharmacist to knowingly supply a poison in breach of the law".
Woo could have faced up to two years of jail and could have been fined up to S$5,000 per charge for breaking the Poisons Rules.