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Docs giving out pills too freely? It's like trafficking - JUNE 5, 2004
JUNE 5, 2004 SAT

Docs giving out pills too freely? It's like trafficking

Those who traffick in depressant drugs risk jail and caning but rogue doctors are, at most, fined and banned from practising medicine for life

By Salma Khalik

ROGUE doctors have been getting away too lightly for behaviour that would be considered criminal in others.

Ordinary folk who traffick in depressant drugs such as Erimin and Dormicum face up to 10 years' jail and five strokes of the cane.

In 2002, a 17-year-old girl was jailed for two years for trafficking in 30 tablets of Erimin.

But the worst that can happen to a doctor who doles out hundreds of Erimin pills to a patient is a $10,000 fine and a lifelong ban from medical practice.

One doctor is known to have given 210 Dormicum tablets in 19 days to one patient; 430 tablets in 138 days to a second; and 160 tablets in 31 days to a third.

This should no longer be called prescription but trafficking.

The doctor in question was suspended from practice for nine months. Other doctors have received more severe penalties. Some were even banned from practising medicine for life.

It is likely that they were doling out even more pills.

Such details are not made public, unless they form part of the charges against the doctor, as the proceedings of the Singapore Medical Council's disciplinary committee are confidential.

But why should such doctors be protected by the mantle of a profession to which they bring disrepute?

The council, the profession's watchdog, has condemned such actions as reckless disregard for patients' well- being and abuse of professional privilege.

The council told one doctor: 'Proper prescribing by doctors is a statutory privilege and carries with it a heavy responsibility.

'This responsibility must be safeguarded in the interest of public welfare.'

The council fined an errant doctor $65,000, but the High Court had to cut it to $10,000 on appeal because the council had exceeded its powers under the Medical Registration Act.

That doctor, Chia Yang Pong, sole licensee of the Grace Polyclinic chain, had a total of 65 charges against him.

The council ruled that he had dispensed the drug to patients 'without any regard to their medical conditions, health, interest, or harm that might come to them'. He was struck off the register and banned from medical pract- ice for life.

But no matter how much a doctor supplies to patients, the Central Narcotics Bureau cannot act against him as doctors are legally allowed to give patients drugs.

It is time that the Health and Home Affairs ministries got together to review the laws governing doctors when they abuse the trust put on them.

Doctors do need some protection, because of the work they do. But this protection should extend to only those who are conscientiously doing their job.

And not to those who overprescribe pills that can cause addiction, memory loss, organ failure and death.

When doctors make a mockery of the Hippocratic oath they've taken, by which they promise to place their patients' welfare foremost, then they have lost the right to such protection.

If such doctors are, in effect, trafficking, cane them and send them to jail.

It cannot be that when drugs are peddled by a pusher, it is a criminal offence; and when 'prescribed' in the hundreds by a doctor, it is merely professional misconduct.

Something is clearly wrong when one group of offenders is protected simply because its members can put 'MBBS' after their names.


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