Illegal supplements: HSA and INTERPOL seize $9K worth of products in Singapore

By Cheryl Tay

- Last updated on GMT

Among the seized products were 'smart drugs' and weight loss supplements, the latter making up the majority of the items. ©Getty Images
Among the seized products were 'smart drugs' and weight loss supplements, the latter making up the majority of the items. ©Getty Images

Related tags banned substance Weight loss nootropics Singapore

Singapore's Health Sciences Authority (HSA), along with INTERPOL, seized approximately 4,500 units of prohibited health supplements as part of an enforcement operation last week.

The operation was part of Operation Pangea, an international week where the HSA and INTERPOL collaborate to target the illegal online sale of counterfeit and unlicensed supplements and medicines.

Among the seized products were 'smart drugs' and weight loss supplements, the latter making up the majority of the items. According to the HSA, the estimated street value of the products was around S$9,000.

The large number of weight loss supplements seized also coincided with illegal sales postings the HSA had discovered during its enforcement week, which lasted from October 9 to 16 — over 90% of the postings were for such products.

In a press release, the HSA stated that two parties were assisting its officers in the investigations.

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Sibutramine and smart drugs

The weight loss products that were seized tested positive for sibutramine, which has been banned in Singapore since 2010.

Prior to that, it was permitted solely in prescription-only weight loss drugs. It was later banned after users complained of suffering from hallucinations, hearing voices, and experiencing breathlessness and palpitations.

Sibutramine was also reported to raise the risk of strokes and heart attacks.

At the same time, the HSA seized 500 modafinil tablets, which were illegally imported from overseas.

Also known as a 'smart drug' or nootropic, modafinil is typically used as prescription medication for narcoleptics or patients who experience excessive sleepiness. As with several other types of nootropics, modafinil has been used by generally healthy individuals to enhance their cognitive function and overall alertness.

The drug is not registered in Singapore, and the HSA had issued a warning in February against its use, especially without a prescription.

A matter of life or death

This came after a woman in Singapore developed Stevens-Johnson syndrome, a life-threatening skin condition characterised by severe blistering and peeling of the skin.

The woman, in her 30s, was hospitalised with conjunctivitis (also called pink eye), and multiple mouth ulcers.

In an official statement, the HSA said: "Modafinil carries a potential risk of dependency due to its stimulant effect on the brain. It can also cause serious adverse effects such as heart problems, hypertension and psychiatric conditions such as anxiety, hallucinations or mania."

Singapore's laws dictate that any individual convicted of supplying illegal health products can be sentenced to imprisonment for up to three years, and / or slapped with a fine of up to S$100,000.

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