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Report: Singaporeans cross Causeway to Malaysia in search of affordable medicine, prompting calls for more stringent monitoring

Malay Mail
Malay Mail

KUALA LUMPUR, March 4 — Singaporeans are taking advantage of the depreciated ringgit by crossing the Causeway to purchase medicine at more affordable rates in Malaysia.

The New Straits Times (NST) today reported that there are concerns over inadequate monitoring of medication sales in certain Johor pharmacies, suggesting a disregard for doctor-prescribed prescriptions.

Malaysian Pharmacists Society president Professor Amrahi Buang said that it is the responsibility of pharmacists to carry out necessary checks before providing medicine categorised under Group B.

He said Singaporeans are required to present prescriptions issued by doctors in Malaysia, as prescriptions from Singapore are not considered valid.

“The law and regulations are in place, and pharmacy licences are issued to the pharmacist, not the proprietor of the company.

“If the pharmacists failed to ensure the prescriptions’ authenticity, then they are guilty of breaching laws and regulations under the Poisons Act,” he was quoted as saying.

Amhari went on to say that doctors’ prescriptions are legally binding documents mandated by the Poisons Act, essential before dispensing controlled drugs to consumers.

He then urged pharmacies to comply with regulations and ensure an ample supply of medicines for their customers.

Johor Health Department director Dr Mohtar Pungut @ Ahmad said it was an offence for controlled drugs to be dispensed without a doctor’s prescriptions.

He said unless medicines under Group B of the Poisons Act were sold over the counter at convenience stores, or on premises without a licensed pharmacist’s authorisation, action could be taken.

On the other hand, Health Minister Datuk Seri Dzulkefly Ahmad said that the ministry will investigate the matter.

“I will check with my director-general officers before commenting on this. I promise to follow through as it is a serious matter,” he was quoted as saying.

Meanwhile, Dr M. Mageswari, a physician at a private clinic in Johor Baru said that controlled drugs obtained without prescriptions could be easily misused and abused, potentially posing health risks.

“Without regulation, there is a heightened risk of adverse health consequences,” she was quoted as saying.

She suggested that controlled drugs sold in pharmacies should be regulated to maintain sufficient stock and reasonable prices for consumers.

Citing an example during the Covid-19 pandemic, she said certain medicine prices soared due to high demand.

She said while patients have access to subsidised medicines at government facilities, they should also have the option to purchase reasonably priced medicines over the counter.

She also said that patients with respiratory issues often returned to the clinic due to pharmaceutical stores running out of stock, attributing the low inventory to the purchasing power of Singaporeans.

An anonymous Singaporean said she travels to Johor Bahru to purchase her hypertension medication, citing the lower cost compared to the over S$100 per box price in Singapore.

“However, I can buy it over the counter in a pharmacy in JB at a fraction of the price. I pay about RM70 (S$19) in Malaysia,” she was quoted as saying.

She also claimed to have never required to present a doctor’s prescription.

“The counter staff would only ask me if I have used it before.

“I would reply ‘yes’ and put down my particulars in the registration book at the counter,” she was quoted as saying, adding that she would usually buy two boxes at a time.

After inspecting multiple pharmacies in the state capital, NST found that individuals, including foreigners, were able to enter, fill out their details in a counter notebook, and make purchases without any limitations on quantity or inquiries about doctor’s prescriptions.

Additionally, the details recorded in the notebook were not confirmed.

Medicines regulated by the Poisons Act 1952 fall into two categories: Group B and Group C in which Group B drugs require a doctor’s prescription for dispensing, whereas pharmacists can provide Group C medications without a prescription after consulting with the patient.

Over-the-counter medicines, which are not controlled under the Poisons Act 1952, include items like cough syrups, sore throat remedies, anti-diarrheal preparations, and laxatives.