$1.25m worth of illegal cough syrup seized

SINGAPORE - Almost 2,000 litres of codeine cough syrup estimated to be worth $1.25 million in street value has been seized by the authorities as part of a crackdown.

A three-month long joint-agency operation by the Health Sciences Authority (HSA) and the Central Narcotics Bureau (CNB) took place from April to July.

It is part of the Government's on-going efforts to tackle the illegal import and supply of codeine cough syrup and is one of the biggest crackdowns in terms of volume seized from the illegal supply chain.

Codeine cough syrups are used medically as a cough suppressant. They are classified as pharmacy-only-medicines and can only be supplied by a licensed pharmacist or a licensed medical practitioner.

If used without proper medical supervision, codeine cough syrups can result in addiction, as well as other side effects such as nausea, vomiting, constipation and confusion.

When taken in excess, they may cause hallucinations, decreased heart rate and breathing, leading to coma and death, HSA said.

The operation was targeted against a suspected codeine syndicate which carried out their illegal activity at various locations. The illegal import of codeine-based syrup was first detected by the Immigration & Checkpoints Authority (ICA) officers on March 28.

The case was referred to HSA for further investigation, which revealed that 3.8-litre canisters of illegal cough syrup were brought in under the guise of other products such as tyre shine, porcelain cleaners and degreasers.

Follow up investigations by HSA showed that the suspects brought the canisters of codeine to a residential unit and another rented storage facility, where they were processed and repackaged into smaller quantities.

They were then distributed to the black market.

Four Singaporean men were arrested and are assisting HSA with investigations.

HSA said it takes a serious stand against such illegal activities and will continue to step up enforcement efforts against such offences. Under the Poisons Act, anyone caught importing, selling or possessing products containing codeine without a licence can be fined up to $10,000, jailed up to two years or both.

Members of the public who have encountered any illegal activity involving codeine cough syrup are encouraged to report them to the Enforcement Branch of HSA at 6866 3485 or hsa_is@hsa.gov.sg.