PETALING JAYA: They say laughter is the best medicine but many traditional drugs available in grocery stores or night markets are no laughing matter.
Most of them are unregistered products such as counterfeit medicine, fake sex stimulants, food supplements and even cosmetics.
According to Health Ministry's director of pharmacy enforcement Mohd Hatta Ahmad, the Pharmaceutical Services Division confiscated 33,274 such items worth RM22.5mil (S$9.3 million) during raids, inspections and entry point screenings last year.
There has been a steady increase - in 2010, the authorities confiscated 24,852 products valued at RM21.5mil, while in 2009, 19,764 items were seized valued at RM10.4mil.
"People could be ignorant, buying these products which are within easy reach and cheap. They look legitimate and impressive with their attractive packaging," he said.
Hatta said many of the unregistered medicine were sold at night markets, grocery stores and roadside stalls.
Another means of distribution was direct selling and a substantial amount of the unregistered medicine was confiscated from the houses of the distributors, he said.
Hatta said these so-called traditional items were often used to treat simple ailments such as cough and cold, fever and aches.
"Some of the medicine claims to be effective for joint pains. When we studied them in our labs, we found that they contained steroids or anti-inflammatory ingredients," he said.
Some of the products even contain heavy metals which can cause kidney damage.
He said some cosmetics might contain hazardous chemicals such as hydroquinone, mercury and tretinoin, which can cause skin damage.
The fake sex stimulants were food products and supplements laced with active ingredients like tadanafil, sildenafil and verdenafil, all of which were used to treat impotence.
Hatta said they were harmful to one's health if taken without proper consultation and could even cause loss of vision.
"These products are available because there is a demand for them. If there are no buyers, there will be no sellers," he said.
Datuk Eisah A. Rahman, the ministry's senior director of pharmaceutical services, said any unregistered product was considered to be unsafe as its quality, safety and efficacy had not been evaluated.
"When we conduct pre-approval testing of medicine, about 10 per cent of the medicines contain contaminants, what more these types of medicine which have not even been registered and tested?" she said.