SINGAPORE - The use of ivermectin without a doctor's prescription is dangerous, and the drug is not proven as a means of treatment for Covid-19, the Health Sciences Authority (HSA) reiterated on Tuesday (Oct 5).
In Singapore, the drug can only be prescribed by doctors and is registered only for the treatment of parasitic worm infections, HSA wrote in an online statement.
The advisory was published after the HSA was alerted that members of the public tried to import and use ivermectin to prevent and treat Covid-19.
Last Friday, a 65-year-old grandmother was hospitalised after taking ivermectin on the urging of her friends to protect herself from Covid-19.
After taking four 3mg tablets over two days, Madam Wong Lee Tak suffered a 39.3 deg C fever, joint inflammation and vomiting, The Straits Times reported on Monday.
Friends from the Church of the Risen Christ had allegedly urged the retiree and her friends not to take any mRNA vaccines and facilitated in ordering ivermectin.
Self-medicating with ivermectin can lead to side effects such as vomiting, diarrhoea, a sudden drop in blood pressure, or liver injury, HSA said in the statement.
"There have been reports of patients requiring hospitalisation after self-medication with ivermectin," added HSA.
"Consumers are strongly advised not to self-medicate with ivermectin and to consult their doctor for proper treatment of Covid-19."
Madam Wong's daughter, Ms Vanessa Koh, 32, told ST that messages on her mother's phone revealed that a church member had taken orders for purchases of 1,000 ivermectin pills for $110.
Another member shared a photo of a table recommending the drug's dosage by body weight for the "treatment of Covid-19".
Ms Koh, who works as a bank executive, said her mother was later removed from the Telegram chats with her friends from church, who also allegedly erased all conversations with her.
She said her mother is under observation at Sengkang General Hospital and is in a stable condition.
Criminal lawyer James Ow Yong, of Kalco Law, listed several penalties those involved in such cases could face.
He said those who give advice without basis or provide ivermectin with such advice may be found guilty of causing hurt by a rash or negligent act under the Penal Code.
By claiming that ivermectin can provide protection from Covid-19 while knowing or having reason to believe that the claim is false, the individual may be found guilty of communication of a false statement.
The charge falls under the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act, or Pofma.
Even if ivermectin was ordered from an overseas supplier, Mr Ow Yong added, an individual making the consolidated order may be considered to be a wholesaler selling ivermectin without a licence.
Under the Penal Code, those who delete chat histories or evidence relating to the incident may be liable for the obstruction of justice.
In summary, those found guilty of these crimes can be fined up to $50,000 and/or jailed for up to seven years.
Mr Ow Yong said that while there are laws in place, members of the public should exercise discernment and verify information and their sources before acting on advice given to them.
"Ultimately, prevention is better than cure... especially when their personal health and safety is at stake," he added.
Ivermectin garnered attention late last year after early research indicated its potential in treating Covid-19. But the World Health Organisation in March warned that evidence was inconclusive and that more studies were needed.
Responding to reports of people in Mississippi taking ivermectin to treat Covid-19, the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) famously tweeted on Aug 21: "You are not a horse. You are not a cow. Seriously, y'all. Stop it."
At the time, more than 70 per cent of recent calls to the state's poison centre came after people took ivermectin bought at livestock supply centres, Mississippi's health department reported on Aug 20.
The FDA wrote on its website that current data does not show that ivermectin is effective against Covid-19 and that clinical trials to test this theory are under way.
Often used against parasites in livestock, the drug is also dangerous when taken in large doses, it added.
In Singapore, the HSA has repeatedly warned in previous cases of groups ordering ivermectin to treat Covid-19 that it is dangerous and illegal.
The HSA added that it will take strong action against the illegal sale and supply of ivermectin and other medicine.
Those convicted of selling these drugs illegally can face a penalty of up to $50,000 and/or imprisonment of up to two years.
Members of the public who have information on the illegal sale of medicine may contact HSA's enforcement branch on 68663485.