SINGAPORE - He was looking forward to a dirty weekend abroad.
Fed up with his celibate lifestyle, Mr Lee (not his real name) agreed to a friend's suggestion to "have a good time" in China.
The Singaporean divorcé in his 40s, said he wanted to feel like a real man again. So when his pal passed him a blue pill in China, urging him to take the "Viagra" to perform better, MrLee accepted.
But things didn't go according to plan.
Mr Lee didn't have sex in the end - he couldn't get it up. Worse, his friend who provided the pill swore that it worked.
"His friend told him it had worked for him," said general practitioner Gan Tek Kah, who related this anecdote to The New Paper.
Traumatised that the pill had not worked as expected, Mr Lee had consulted Dr Gan at his Tampines clinic after returning to Singapore earlier this year.
What went wrong, the distressed man wanted to know.
It turned out he has erectile dysfunction.
Not only that, Dr Gan also diagnosed Mr Lee as having a low testosterone count and diabetes.
Mr Lee, shocked at the news of his impotence, was in for another shock.
The pill he consumed was fake.
It was his friend's libido that worked.
Men in their 40s or older, like Mr Lee, make up three-quarters of those suffering from erectile dysfunction, said Dr Gan, who has 18 years' experience treating these kinds of disorders.
The rest tend to be men in their 20s and 30s.
And although Mr Lee may not see it that way, he is actually one of the lucky ones - he flirted with fake medicine and ended up only with a bruised ego, but some men suffered serious injuries and even death from taking illegal sex enhancement pills.
On Thursday, the Health Sciences Authority (HSA) seized about 13,000 illegal health products worth $18,000 as part of a global Internet blitz on the sale of unregistered medicinal products and medical devices.
Ten people are being investigated for selling unregistered and counterfeit items like condoms, weight-loss products and pregnancy test strips.
This is the fifth year that HSA has taken part in the clampdown, known as Operation Pangea, which involves 99 countries and 190 agencies.
An Interpol spokesman said that police, customs and other regulators arrested about 80 people and seized US$10.5 million (S$12.9 million) of counterfeit products.
More than 18,000 websites linked to illicit online pharmacies were also shut down.
A HSA spokesman said the top four drugs seized were lifestyle drugs, which included oral contraceptives, slimming pills, hair-loss products and sexual enhancement drugs.
It is this last category of illegal drugs, however, that keeps hitting the headlines.
The New Paper reported in February that these drugs are readily available for cheap in areas such as Geylang and Little India.
What vendors claim to be Viagra can cost as little as $10 a pill, less than half the price of the real McCoy.
While the sale of drugs like Viagra is not illegal, buyers need to get a doctor's prescription first.
HSA also monitors how companies market the sexual enhancement drugs.
Dubious price tags and claims aside, what goes into the fake drugs can be a recipe for disaster.
For instance, fake Viagra pills may contain less or more than the required strength of sildenafil citrate concentrate - the main ingredient that controls blood flow in the penis tissue.
Fake Cialis - another sexual enhancement drug - also tends to contain sildenafil, which may have detrimental effects on people with heart problems and those taking nitrate-based drugs like nitroglycerine (it can cause life-threatening low blood pressure).
Then there are the slimming pills, which can contain higher-than-recommended daily dosages.
For instance, the pill Relacore contains sibutramine, a prescription drug that suppresses appetite and is used to treat obesity.
In a 2008 article, The Straits Times reported that an online peddler told buyers to pop two such pills a day (which comes up to 24mg of sibutramine), far above the recommended maximum dose of 15mg a day for obese patients.
Traditional herbal medicines with questionable ingredients also made an appearance among the products seized in Thursday's sting.
These additives range from phenylbutazone, a drug used as a painkiller for horses, to everyday substances like chalk and paint.
Check suppliers' papers
Check suppliers' papers
A check with three Chinese medical halls showed that they are more careful with selecting and selling products since the Government started regulating traditional chinese medicine (TCM).
Chinese physician Chow Khai Cheng said: "We always ask to see suppliers' papers before we agree tobuy.
"How many distributors are there here? So we usually know when (they show credentials that are) fakes."
More established players shy away from engaging dodgy suppliers, but a Chinatown medical hall owner, who declined to be named, said that it all boils down to ethics.
"Some of the more unscrupulous ones try to increase their profit margin by buying from dubious sources at a discount.
"When they sell the products, they mark up prices for a bigger profit," the third-generation owner added.
Many of these lax ones are often located in the heartlands "or near the sleazy areas," he added.
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