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Press Release

Woman arrested for selling slimming product with banned drug ingredients

29 Apr 2011

A 43-year-old woman was today (April 29) arrested in a joint operation by the Police and the Department of Health (DH) following their investigation into the suspected sale of a slimming product containing banned Western drug ingredients.

DH’s investigation followed a report by the Hospital Authority (HA) concerning a 39-year-old woman who felt unwell after consuming a slimming product called "Botanical Slimming" which was found to contain two banned Western drugs, phenolphthalein and sibutramine. Both can cause serious side effects.

The patient presented with malaise, dizziness, polydipsia and polyuria on April 15 and sought medical treatment at the Accident and Emergency Department of the Queen Mary Hospital on the same day. She was discharged later that day. Her symptoms improved after stopping consumption of the product.

Laboratory tests performed by the Hospital Authority Toxicology Reference Laboratory on the product sample showed the presence of undeclared Western drugs, phenolphthalein and sibutramine. Phenolphthalein, sibutramine and sibutramine metabolites were detected in the urine sample of the patient.

DH later found the same drug appearing for sale on an Internet auction website. Police assistance was sought and a joint operation mounted this evening resulted in the arrest of the woman.

The woman was arrested for suspected illegal sale of Part I poison and unregistered pharmaceutical product.

DH’s investigation continues.

Phenolphthalein was once used for treating constipation but has been banned for its cancer-causing effect.

Sibutramine was once a western medicine used as appetite suppressant. In November 2010, sibutramine-containing products have been banned because of the increased cardiovascular risk.

Thus, any product containing sibutramine or phenolphthalein are therefore unregistered pharmaceutical products and not allowed for sale in Hong Kong.

“Sale of unregistered pharmaceutical product is an offence under the Pharmacy and Poisons Ordinance. The maximum penalty is a fine of $100,000 and two years' imprisonment,” a DH spokesman said.

The spokesman exhorted members of the public not to buy products of unknown or doubtful composition.

People should stop using the product immediately. They should consult a doctor if they feel unwell after having taken the product. As the product they have in hand is illegal, they should submit it to DH's Pharmaceutical Service at 3/F, Public Health Laboratory Centre, 382 Nam Cheong Street, Kowloon, during office hours for disposal.

The spokesman said: "Weight control should be achieved through good diet and appropriate exercise. People should consult healthcare professionals before using any medication for weight control."

29 April 2011