Thailand int'l airport a major channel for smuggled pseudoephedrine pills

Thanatpong Khongsai and Ekkapong Praditpong in Bangkok/The Nation
Asia News Network

Bangkok (The Nation/ANN) - Thailand's Department of Special Investigation (DSI) yesterday revealed that about 83 per cent of the smuggling of cold medicine with pseudoephedrine happened through Suvarnabhumi Airport, while the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is considering ending imports of the colds medicine after one year.

DSI chief Tharit Pengdit spoke yesterday at a seminar on the matter by the Thai Journalists Association and the Isara Institute Thai Press Development Foundation. He said the DSI investigation found that about 17 per cent of the pseudoephedrine medicine was siphoned off the public health system while the rest 83 per cent was smuggled through Suvarnabhumi Airport as well as the southern border. Hence the authorities must tackle such smuggling channels besides acting against those siphoning off the medicine from hospitals.

He said the smuggling of pseudoephedrine medicine was because many countries did not strictly control it. People carried the medicine as if they were a cosmetic or extracted ginseng, and one bag could carry tens of thousands of tablets.

As for the Public Health Ministry's key information including names of involved officials up to the rank of former minister, Tharit said DSI suspected they might be involved in the medicine rationing and sending them for narcotics production. Or, they might gain in the form of commission or special returns. He urged those involved in the wrongdoing to give information to DSI as case witness.

Another speaker, FDA narcotics control division chief Prapon Angtrakul, said the Public Health Ministry and his office had discussed with related field doctors and initially agreed that pseudoephedrine medicine was no longer needed in Thailand. Hence, the FDA would allow the current stocks of the medicine to be distributed for one year, while the rest would be destroyed. He added that it wouldn't be imported in future. Phenylephrine medicine, which was more complicated and could cause an explosion if turned into narcotics, would be used instead, he added.

Prapon said two countries exported pseudoephedrine medicine. About 85 per cent of the medicine was smuggled into Thailand from one country while about 3 million to 4 million tablets were smuggled in from a country that has a border with Thailand.

The Thai FDA had already contacted the two countries' FDA offices because some Thai companies had ordered the medicine from suppliers there, he added.

The proposal to list pseudoephedrine medicine on the Psychotropic Substance Schedule 2 (only hospitals can purchase directly from FDA) would be signed by Public Health Minister Wittaya Buranasiri tomorrow for announcement in the Royal Gazette, he added.

An adviser to the Public Health Minister, Pasit Sakdanarong, said that the ministry's initial probe found that there was nothing wrong with the public health system but the people who operated the system did wrong. Revealing that there were attempts to tamper with the case by discrediting witnesses, he said the probe would continue and punish those involved according to evidence and facts.

Meanwhile, Pol Maj-General Kanitsorn Noinart, commander of Kalasin provincial police, urged police at all 43 precincts to work with the DSI in investigating the missing 350,000 tablets of pseudoephedrine medicine from Kamalapisai Hospital.

A pharmacist at Chiang Mai Nakhonping Hospital and owner of Om Muag Pharmacy, Methee Pol-ard, from whose pharmacy 6,539 bottles of pseudoephedrine medicine had been seized earlier, told a press conference yesterday that he wasn't involved in drug trafficking. Saying he did not break the law by selling the drug, he said that after the ban on over-the-counter sale of pseudoephedrine medicine, he had kept his stocks in storage until the suppliers took it back. He said he had bought the colds medicine in a bulk quantities after hearing the prices would increase. He called for justice as the news affected his professional reputation.

Meanwhile, Chiang Mai's San Khamphaeng police revealed that emptied medicine packs, found on March 28 in a wooded area, contained 1.7 million tablets. They submitted the emptied packs to FDA to check the lot numbers to trace them.