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Chemical in some weight-loss remedies and drugs listed as poison; sale of such products restricted in Singapore

Chemical in some weight-loss remedies and drugs listed as poison; sale of such products restricted in Singapore
Sellers of products with 2,4-Dinitrophenol can now be prosecuted for importing and supplying poison in Singapore.
PHOTO: Pexels

SINGAPORE - A chemical found in some weight-loss remedies has been listed as a poison, with the sale of any such products now restricted.

2,4-Dinitrophenol (DNP) and its salts that are intended for human consumption were added to the Poisons Act on Nov 1, according to The Straits Times' (ST) checks.

The legislation has been put in place to control the import and supply of health-enhancing products, such as health supplements and traditional medicine, that contain substances specified in the Poisons List.

"(DNP) is an industrial chemical, which is not suitable for human consumption. It is prohibited in all health products in Singapore," said the Health Sciences Authority (HSA) in a reply to ST.

It added that it has detected DNP being sold as weight-loss products on local e-commerce platforms, and has worked closely with the platforms' administrators to promptly remove these online listings to minimise harm to the public.

"We have also included DNP in the Poisons List to enable HSA to take the appropriate enforcement actions against any sellers engaged in the illegal import and local supply of health products containing prohibited DNP," HSA said.

Sellers of products with DNP can now be prosecuted for importing and supplying poison in Singapore. Under the Poisons Act, no one shall import, possess for sale, sell or offer for sale any poison, without a licence to do so.

If convicted in court, an offender may be jailed for up to two years, fined up to $10,000, or both, HSA said.

The chemical, first used to make explosives, gained infamy in the 1930s for causing death and blindness to its users who were hoping to shed kilos. It is also used in pesticides.

Users of DNP lose weight as the substance disrupts energy generation in their bodies, which means that they need to burn more calories to produce energy.

While the drug might seem like a quick fix for bodybuilding and weight loss, DNP causes the energy produced to be released as heat, which risks damaging organs due to an increase in body temperature, according to Britain's Health Security Agency.

Those who have taken the drug can experience harmful adverse effects like kidney failure, coma and seizures, the HSA spokeswoman said.

In 2012, a 24-year-old woman in Singapore died of acute DNP poisoning after taking pills containing the chemical. She had bought the pills over the Internet from Ukraine.

HSA said it has not received any reports of other adverse events in Singapore associated with the substance since then.

Checks by The Straits Times found the chemical listed among prohibited products on e-commerce platform Shopee's website.

The HSA spokewoman said the authority strongly advises consumers to be cautious when they come across slimming products that promise rapid weight loss or have exaggerated and misleading claims.

"There is no quick and easy way to lose weight," she added.

Various world-level organisations, like Interpol and the World Anti-Doping Agency, have also warned of the dangers of the substance, which can be sold as yellow powder, capsules or as a cream. More recently, Britain declared DNP as a poison on Oct 1, which means that it can be sold only by registered pharmacists there.

This came after parents of children who died from overdosing on DNP campaigned for a ban on pills containing the substance.

Over 60 deaths have been formally attributed to the substance worldwide, according to a 2011 study.

Said the HSA spokeswoman: "Weight management should be achieved through a combination of balanced diet and appropriate exercise. Consumers are advised to consult a doctor or dietitian if they need help in managing their weight."

This article was first published in The Straits Times. Permission required for reproduction.

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