Counterfeit Medicine/Health Products: Redress for Victims in Singapore

Last updated on December 9, 2020

hand holding magnifying glass over medication tablets

Counterfeit medicine and health products are medication or health products that have been presented in a manner to falsely resemble registered health products, or that have had their source intentionally mislabelled for sale. Such medication or products may be manufactured with wrong or harmful ingredients.

Alternatively, even if the medication or product has been manufactured with the right active ingredient, this ingredient can be at the wrong dose and hence be harmful to health. Such counterfeit medication and health products are then packaged and labelled to look like genuine products.

Expired medicines and health products are not counterfeit. However, if expired medicines and health products are intentionally mislabelled and sold as normal medicines and health products, they may be considered counterfeit.

For example, a generic drug for Alzheimer’s Disease can have a 2-year expiry from the date of manufacture. However, if the medicine is then repackaged and labelled as having an expiry of another 2 years, the medicine is counterfeit.

In this article, we will be covering:

Dangers Of Counterfeit Medicine/Health Products

The use of counterfeit medicines and health products can be harmful to health and even cause death.

Consumers who use counterfeit medicines and health products can experience unexpected side effects, allergic reactions, or a worsening of existing medical conditions. They may also develop a new medical problem.

An example would be the weight loss medication, Slim 10, which led to adverse health effects among a few people who used it.

The Slim 10 pills contained ingredients not listed on packaging such as fenfluramine, which is linked to heart-valve problems, and nicotinamide, which can cause liver damage. The pills also contained banned substances, thyroxine and triiodothyronine. Some people also died after consuming the product.

Identifying a Counterfeit Medicine/Health Product

With advancements in technology, identifying a counterfeit medicine or health product from the real medicine or health product is often difficult, if not impossible for consumers. Some of these products may have similar names and packaging to those sold in clinics or pharmacies, making it difficult for consumers to differentiate the real medicine or health product from the fake.

In Singapore, these medicines or health products are often peddled via makeshift street stalls, unsolicited spam mail, or over the Internet via unknown websites or sellers.

If your medicine or product was obtained from such dubious sources, there is a high chance that the medicine or health product that you have bought may be counterfeit.

The best way to avoid buying such medicines and health products is to buy your health products from registered clinics and pharmacies.

If you are unsure as to whether a medication or health product you have purchased is genuine, you can make a report to the Health Sciences Authority (HSA). The HSA may perform a laboratory analysis to investigate the authenticity and source of the product.

Offences And Penalties Relating to Counterfeit Medicine and Health Products

Buying counterfeit medicine and health products for personal use is not illegal.

However, if you buy counterfeit medicine and health products overseas and attempt to bring them into Singapore, you might be committing an offence. In such cases, there is a possibility of the counterfeit goods being confiscated by the authorities at the point of importation.

Trademark violation of licensed medication or health product

Selling, trading or manufacturing medicine or health products that have had trade marks applied on them without the trademark owner’s consent is illegal, regardless of whether the goods are bought in Singapore or bought overseas and imported into Singapore.

Generally, a licensed medication or health product would have a registered trademark.

It is therefore an offence to counterfeit the trademark by creating a copy of it or altering the trademark on legitimate medicines/health products and without the permission of the trademark owner.

According to section 49 of the Trade Marks Act (TMA), such an offence is punishable by a fine of up to $10,000 for each counterfeit product sold or imported, subject to the same overall maximum fine of $100,000 and/or a jail term of up to 5 years.

However, the individual may not be liable for this offence if he had:

  • Acted innocently; or
  • Taken all reasonable precautions to avoid committing the offence, had no reason to believe that the trademarks applied on the medicine or health products were not genuine, and had disclosed from whom he had obtained such medicine or health product upon request.

Offence and penalties for the sale of counterfeit health products     

Those who sell or buy counterfeit medicine and healthcare products for the purpose of reselling them can also be found guilty of an offence under the Health Products Act.

According to section 16 of the Health Products Act, the supply of adulterated or counterfeit health products is a criminal offence punishable by a fine of up to $100,000 and/or imprisonment for up to 3 years. The same penalties apply for people found guilty of manufacturing defective medicines and health products. This means that retailers, distributors or manufacturers of defective products can all be held liable if found to have carried out such illegal activities.

However, if an individual did not know, had no reason to believe and could not reasonably have known that the medicine or health product he/she was selling was counterfeit, and had also taken all precautions and due diligence to avoid selling counterfeit health products, he/she may not be liable for the offence.

How Buyers and Victims of Counterfeit Medicine/Health Products Can Seek Redress in Singapore

1. Contact the HSA Enforcement Branch

If you know of any counterfeit medicines and health products being sold in Singapore, you should contact the HSA Enforcement Branch at 6866 3485 or via email.

The HSA may investigate the matter, seize the counterfeit medicines and health products, revoke import and wholesale licenses and press criminal charges against the persons involved, as necessary.

2. Make a police report 

If you are a victim of counterfeit medicine or health products (i.e. have suffered harm as a result of using counterfeit medicine or health products), you should make a police report.

The police may request for your personal details and information about the medicine or product. This information may include the product name, country of purchase, manufacturer and supplier, and what you experienced as a result of using the counterfeit medicine or health product.

3. Commence a civil lawsuit

You may also wish to commence a civil lawsuit against the manufacturer or supplier of the counterfeit medicine or health product to seek compensation.

For this course of action, it would be recommended to seek the help of an experienced personal injury lawyer who will advise you on the strength of your case and the required documents and evidence you may need to prepare, such as the counterfeit medicine and health product bought, the purchase receipt, medical reports and hospitalisation bills.

Making a civil claim as a victim

Under the tort of negligence, a private person who is a victim of a defective product may file a lawsuit against the manufacturer or even the distributor or supplier, for negligence in the manufacture or supply of such products.

In the Slim 10 example mentioned above, Singapore actress Andrea de Cruz, suffered from liver failure after consuming the unsafe slimming pills. She then sued various parties such as the importer and distributor of Slim 10 in Singapore for negligence, and was awarded $1.63 million in compensation.

Making a claim as a buyer

If you are an individual who has paid to receive a genuine medicine or health product but have instead received a counterfeit one, this may constitute a false claim or misrepresentation by the seller that the product was genuine.

In this situation, you may be able to lodge a complaint with the Consumers Association of Singapore to try and obtain a refund.

Counterfeit medicine and health products can be dangerous to health and you should purchase medication and health products only from registered clinics and pharmacies.

If you wish to claim compensation against the manufacturer or distributor for losses or harm suffered as a result of buying or using counterfeit medicine or health products, you may engage the services of an experienced personal injury lawyer to assess your case and file a lawsuit in court on your behalf.

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