Know Your Medicines
Purchase of Medicine and Supplement

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People can now easily gain access to regulated medicines and other health products through online pharmacies and even peddlers on the street. They offer convenience for people like the disabled and elderly who may face difficulty getting their prescription medicines from healthcare professionals. However, health products bought via these illegitimate sources may put you at risk, as their safety and effectiveness are not guaranteed. Another disturbing possibility is that consumers do not know how to identify such dubious and illegal means, thereby falling trap to deceitful businessmen. It is hence important for consumers like you to be aware of the harmful effects that these dubious health products can bring about, and make informed choices when buying them.


Current regulatory control of medicine and supplements in Singapore

The Health Sciences Authority (HSA) keeps track of safety issues related to medicines and other health products in Singapore. Medicinal products that are being brought into Singapore need to be approved by HSA to ensure the quality and safety of these products before they can be sold. Selling of medicinal products on the Internet will also require a license from HSA. Although selling of health supplements in Singapore do not need to be approved and licensed by HSA, sellers are responsible for the safety and quality of these products.



Risks of buying medicines and health products from dubious sources

You may not know how reliable the websites are.    

Among all the websites and online pharmacies, there exist many “black sheep” that put up ineffective or unsafe medicines and supplements for sale. Despite their seemingly legal and professional designs, these websites could actually be fake. More often than not, these sites sell illegal medicines - those that could be ineffective or dangerous - that have not been approved by the health authorities. Information about the source of the products and how they are manufactured and stored is often not clearly stated. In view of the lack of contact information, as well as the prevalence of false data, you will be unable to contact such dubious sources when problems arise.


You may end up buying products that are fake, ineffective or even dangerous.                 

Buying medicines and supplements online from dubious sources comes with its risks.  They may be selling products that do not have guaranteed quality. These products could be counterfeit, contaminated, adulterated with potent ingredients or not approved by the health authorities.

Counterfeit medicines and supplements are fake products that are made to imitate the real ones. They can be packed to look very similar to the original products and are difficult to identify. Counterfeit products can consist of wrong types and amounts of active ingredients, making them either too weak or too strong. It has also been found that online products sold to buyers may be contaminated with other banned and harmful ingredients that are not stated on their product labels. Consumption of these hidden ingredients may lead to dangerous side effects, some of which could be fatal.


You may be putting your personal and financial information at risk.

Buying medicines and supplements online may place your personal and financial information at risk. The information which is inputted into these unreliable sites could be unprotected and even misused. Such valuable information can be passed on to other illegal websites and online scams. Subsequently, you may also be frustrated by recurring phone calls and emails. In some unfortunate situations, you could even be charged for products for which you have not placed an order.


Tips on buying medicines and health products

It is essential that you take charge of your own health. Do not fall victim into these traps for the sake of cheaper and more convenient means of getting the medicines.


TIP #1: Buy from reliable sources

Hospital and retail pharmacies such as Guardian, Watsons and Unity are licensed to sell medicines and health supplements. Medicines have to be assessed by HSA before being put up for sale in these legal pharmacies. Some telltale signs of an unreliable online source you should watch out for are: (1) Medicines can be bought without a prescription or by filling up a simple questionnaire. (2) Medicines are sold at very low prices that are almost unbelievable. (3) Medicines can be shipped worldwide. (4) Spam emails or calls that promote discounts on the medicines.


TIP #2: Know your medicines         

For medicines that you are taking on a long term basis, it would be good to be able to remember the shape, size, packaging and smell of the medicines. If you get medicines that are different from the ones that you usually get, consult your pharmacist’s advice to find out if there is any change in appearance for the medicine. This can help you to identify any counterfeit and unsafe medicines.    


TIP #3: Learn to identify suspicious advertising of health supplements

Many health supplements are marketed with claims such as ‘FDA approved’, ‘scientifically proven’ or ‘guaranteed immediate results’, in order to seem more trustworthy and effective.  However convincing and legit these statements may sound, they can be misleading for consumers like you.

First of all, health authorities like FDA and HSA do not approve and endorse any health supplements. This means that safety and effectiveness of these health products have not been reviewed by them. Claims for ‘scientifically proven’ effects may be gathered from small scales studies or even made up with non-existent research. Health supplements that ‘guaranteed immediate results’ are also suspicious as many of such products have been found to be adulterated with potent western medicines that may result in adverse effects and even death. As such, take those claims with a pinch of salt and discuss with your doctor or pharmacist for more advice before starting on a new health supplement.


TIP #4: Consult your doctor or pharmacist if you have any queries about your health

You may be putting yourself at risk when you turn to the Internet for online remedies or treat yourself with medicines and health products sold online. This can not only lead to wrong diagnosis of your condition, it can also delay the proper treatment by doctor, which can worsen the condition. Consulting your doctor or pharmacist allows you to have an accurate diagnosis and better understanding of your condition. Your doctor or pharmacist may also suggest the correct treatment to seek for your condition. Remember that there is always risk when taking any medicines or health supplements, always seek medical advice from your doctor or pharmacist if you have any concerns.       


What to do when problems arise?

If you suffer from side effects or allergy from the medicines you purchased, consult a doctor immediately and inform your doctor on the source of medicine.

You can also report any suspicious sale of illegal medicines and health products to HSA at 68663485 or


Case Studies

Case Study #1

In an attempt to lose weight, a 24 year old lady bought weight loss capsules online from an overseas seller. She suffered from chest pain and died of dinitrophenol poisoning. Dinitrophenol, a drug that causes rapid weight loss, is banned for sale in Singapore due to the adverse effects related to it.


Case Study #2

A 49 year old male was admitted to hospital, presenting with fits and stroke-like symptoms. He had been consuming a counterfeit version of Cialis, a drug used for erectile dysfunction. The drug was found to be tainted with Glibenclamide, an anti-diabetic drug. The patient passed away 2 weeks later due to complications.


Case Study #3

A male in his 60s presented with severe gastric pain and facial swelling a week after he started taking a pain relief product claiming to be 100% natural for his leg pain. The product was found to contain Dexamethasone, a potent steroid usually used for inflammatory conditions and should be used under strict medical supervision due to the side effects associated with it. Unsupervised long-term use may result in increase in blood sugar level, high blood pressure and even cataract.



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  2. Health Sciences Authority (HSA). Illegal Products Found in Singapore. Retrieved 31 October 2016 from:

  3. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The Possible Dangers of Buying Medicines over the Internet. United States, Food and Drug Administration, November 2011.
  4. World Health Organisation, 2001. WHO Drug Information, 15(3-4), 179-185.
  5. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) (2016, June 23). BeSafeRx: Know Your Online Pharmacy. Retrieved from:
  6. World Health Organisation, 2010 April. Growing Threat from Counterfeit Medicines. Bulletin of World Health Organisation 88(4), 241-320.
  7. Singh K. (2012 December 01). Woman Dies After Taking Slimming Pills Bought Online. The Straits Times, Singapore.
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  9. Health Sciences Authority (2016). HSA Alerts Public to ‘LONGRED Oyster-x’ and ‘Lifesparks 100% Natural PAIN RELIEF SUPPLEMENT’ Which Contained Undeclared Potent Ingredients and Caused Adverse Effects in a Patient [Press Release]. Retrieved from: