GP sold over 25,000 bottles of cough mixture to addicts

Tan, who is appealing against his sentence, illegally sold over 2,300 litres of cough mixture from 2014 to June 2015.
Tan, who is appealing against his sentence, illegally sold over 2,300 litres of cough mixture from 2014 to June 2015.ST PHOTO: WONG KWAI CHOW

Repeat offender who made over $600k in illegal codeine sales gets two years' jail and $130k fine

Over a period of 15 months, a doctor made more than $600,000 by selling 25,765 bottles of cough mixture to drug addicts in one of the highest quantities of illegal codeine sales, a court heard yesterday.

In all, Tan Gek Young illegally sold over 2,300 litres of cough mixture - working out to be an average of 57 bottles of the standard 90ml cough preparation sold daily. This was carried out from 2014 to June 2015.

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

It was not the first time Tan inappropriately provided drugs to patients in his care. In 2010, the Singapore permanent resident pleaded guilty to 22 charges of professional misconduct levied against him by the Singapore Medical Council. He was suspended from practice for six months, fined $5,000 and ordered to give a written undertaking not to repeat such misconduct.

Yesterday, the 61-year-old general practitioner, who runs Meridian Polyclinic and Surgery in Bedok North, was sentenced to two years in jail and fined $130,000 on 20 charges of selling cough syrup and canisters, and failing to keep proper records for supplying cough syrup with codeine and promethazine. Bail of $60,000 was offered, pending his appeal.

A recalcitrant offender, Tan was back to dealing codeine a mere three months after the Health Sciences Authority raided his clinic and began investigations in July 2014. He also knew he was not to prescribe over 240ml of cough mixture to a patient in a single visit and was required to record all codeine sales at his clinic.

He made a total profit of between $603,624 and $749,163 from his illegal sales of codeine.

A codeine overdose can cause respiratory problems that may lead to seizures, coma or acute lung injury. Death may also result.

Despite enhancements made to the law on the illegal sale of poisons, the illicit sale of such cough preparations doubled, from 44 cases in 2008 to 85 in 2014. In the latest tweak, offenders can now be fined up to $50,000 on each charge - five times the previous $10,000 limit - and/or jailed for up to two years.

The judge said such an offence is aggravated when it is committed by a doctor, because doctors are trusted by the authorities to prescribe appropriate amounts of such cough preparations to patients.

When Tan re-offended in October 2014, he not only sold more cough mixture, but also sold it in the bigger 3.8-litre canisters to the addicts, equivalent to 42 90ml-bottles.

Judge Lim said what Tan did was "disgraceful'' and tarnished the medical profession's good reputation.

"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,'' he added.

The maximum punishment under the Poisons Act is a $10,000 fine and two years' jail per charge; and under the Medicines Act, a $5,000 fine and two years in jail.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 18, 2017, with the headline 'GP sold over 25,000 bottles of cough mixture to addicts'. Print Edition | Subscribe