SINGAPORE - Mary (not her real name) has never been overweight, but she had always wanted to get rid of the "stubborn fat".
"I wanted to lose fat, but exercise would make me toned," said the 17-year-old. "Also, boys in my school said that girls above 50kg are fat."
So when she saw an online shop on popular social media site Instagram selling slimming pills that claimed to help clients lose up to 15kg in a month, she decided to take the risk.
Mary paid $80 for a month's supply of about a hundred pills. She said: "There were about nine pills to take every day, but I took the pills only when I did not have a lot of activities for that day."
She was 52kg at her heaviest and lost 6kg after taking the pills for two months.
But almost immediately after taking the pills, she started suffering from dizziness, light-headedness and heart palpitations.
Fortunately, she has stopped taking the pills, which doctors say can lead to lasting damage to the body, including liver failure.
Mary is just one of at least 600 teenagers who have visited the Instagram shop. We are not naming the shop to prevent others from buying the pills.
It is not known how many teenagers have bought the pills since they went on sale, but the shop claims to have sold more than 29 "batches" of pills.
The shop owner refused to say when she started the shop.
Teenagers who have commented and liked the shop's posts on Instagram were as young as 15 years old.
The owner of the shop claims that the slimming pills are from a verified supplier of a Thai hospital, which is known for offering plastic surgery.
The 600 posts on the Instagram store are filled with "testimonials" and "reviews" from previous customers.
To buy the pills, Mary had to transfer money to the owner online and fill up a short questionnaire about her age, height, weight and health-related issues.
"There was a choice of meeting and collecting the pills from the seller or have it mailed. I picked the latter as it was more convenient," Mary said.
The pills were then mailed to her home a week later. She even received an "official membership" card from the hospital. Mary was told to drink more water to prevent the side effects.
A recent report by Shanghai Daily revealed that slimming pills from the hospital contained appetite suppressant sibutramine, which has been banned in China since 2010.
Singapore's Health Sciences Authority (HSA) reported that sibutramine was deregistered in Singapore in 2010 due to increased cardiovascular risk.
It can cause severe adverse reactions, including symptoms of psychosis, hallucinations, confusion, anxiety and increases in blood pressure and heart rate.
An HSA spokesman said two people were admitted to the hospital in 2008 after taking slimming products bought online that contained sibutramine.
The Instagram store owner, who is Singaporean and in her 20s, declined to be named. She told TNP that the hospital set the minimum age requirement to buy the pills at 18.
But she said she still sold the pills to girls if they were 16 years old and over, although the "majority (of her customers) are 20 and above".
When TNP asked if she was able to verify whether customers were lying about their details, the owner said she "wouldn't know if they lie" and that she was "not liable for anything".
She claimed that her shop was now closed and that she has stopped selling the slimming pills.
But when TNP checked the Instagram shop, it was still there, though it was locked and made private.
She knew that selling pills online was illegal and claimed to have "wanted to close the shop since day one, but kept selling because there were many return customers".
She said she does not know how her supplier in Thailand is able to get prescriptions for the slimming pills.
An HSA spokesman said: "Health products sold on the Internet pose a high risk of harm to consumers as there are no means to verify the source and quality of these products."
The HSA added that people should "exercise caution when they encounter health products that promise quick cures or advertisements with exaggerated and misleading claims".
The penalty for committing an offence under the Medicines Act is a fine of up to $5,000 and/or imprisonment for up to two years.
The HSA is investigating
Despite being warned by her doctor not to buy dubious weight-loss pills online, Grace Yu Jing Ni continued to do so.
And she paid for it with her life.
The 24-year-old suffered chest pains after swallowing the capsules, bought online for $335 through a Ukrainian seller.
She was taken to Tan Tock Seng Hospital, where she later died of dinitrophenol (DNP) poisoning.
DNP, which causes rapid loss of weight but has adverse side effects, is banned here.
Logistics executive Selvarani Raja, 43, made no secret of her taking of slimming pills.
Convinced by an advertisement that actress Chen Liping had slimmed down after consuming Slim 10, she bought and took the drug, which contained fenfluramine and nicotinamide.
Her liver became inflamed and more than 80 per cent of its cells died from substances which were extremely toxic to the liver.
Her death in June 2002 was the only death in Singapore linked to Slim 10, the made-in-China weight loss drug.
A 30-second TV advertisement for Slim 10 featuring colleague Chen convinced actress Andrea De Cruz to try the weight-loss herbal pills.
She ordered three batches. But before she could collect the third batch, she was warded for severe hepatitis.
Ms De Cruz suffered liver failure after taking the drug and her then fiance, actor Pierre Png, saved her life by donating part of his liver for a transplant
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