Many elderly patients often rely on a mixture of traditional beliefs and hearsay to find cures for their health conditions. 

Unfortunately, this has also come to the attention of unscrupulous manufacturers, sellers and importers who cash in to produce counterfeit or adulterated medicines posing as natural or traditional cures, and sell them to unsuspecting elderly for lucrative profits. 

Unscrupulous sellers would entice the elderly through false promises of guaranteed results and exaggerated testimonies. 

Some common illegal medicines offered include painkillers for rheumatism and other ‘promised’ cures for chronic illnesses such as diabetes and high blood pressure. They are often packaged so well that it is hard to tell them apart from medicines from legitimate sources.

As a result, in recent years, the adverse drug reaction reports associated with adulterated medicines posing as natural or traditional cures have been on the rise. There were also cases of elders taking medicines from dubious sources and forgoing proper medical treatment.​

Buyer Beware

Consumers are advised not to risk their health for the sake of convenience or lower prices by purchasing medicines from dubious online sources, or from back alley peddlers, door-to-door salesmen and word of mouth testimonials.

​​Medicines purchased from these sources pose very high risk of being counterfeit or adulterated with undeclared substances that may cause serious harm to consumers. The dangers are especially high if the products are prescription medicines which should only be taken under close medical supervision.

Case Study 1

In search of relief from chronic knee pain, a woman in her 60s turned to ‘PHQ 1001 Khasiat Penawar Herba Qaseh Serata Herb’. She purchased the product through a social media platform and consumed it regularly for a few months. While she did experience rapid pain relief, she also found herself gaining weight and developing a puffy face. Doctors diagnosed her to have diabetes and Cushing’s syndrome, which is a condition caused by prolonged ingestion of steroids.

‘PHQ 1001 Khasiat Penawar Herba Qaseh Serata Herb’ was marketed as a traditional herbal remedy for a variety of medical conditions such as pain, impotence, kidney diseases and stroke. However, it was tested by HSA to contain undeclared potent medicinal ingredients, including dexamethasone (a potent steroid), griseofulvin (an antifungal), piroxicam and paracetamol (painkillers). The serious adverse effects experienced by the woman who consumed the product were likely caused by dexamethasone1.

​Case Study 2

In July 2012, HSA alerted members of the public to several illegal adulterated capsules that were sold as traditional herbal medicines to treat arthritic and joint pain, as well as promote blood circulation. Samples of these capsules were tested and found to contain an undeclared potent substance, dexamethasone1.

The reported cases involved patients aged between 40 and 80 years, and affected both men and women. One of the cases included an 80-year-old man who was in critical condition after he took the capsules and had to be warded in the Intensive Care Unit for complications from chronic unsupervised steroid consumption.

​​1.  Dexamethasone is a very potent steroid used for anti-inflammatory purposes and is normally taken under strict supervision by doctors.​​

Quick Tips

#1 Avoid dubious sources peddling medicinal cures

  • Adulterated and counterfeit medicines may have names and appearances similar to those sold in clinics or pharmacies. However they are from dubious backgrounds and are likely to have poor quality control during manufacturing. These medicines may also contain pharmaceutical ingredients which can be dangerous for you to take without proper supervision from your doctor.

#2 Beware of deals that seem too good to be true

  • Beware of products which are selling at significantly lower prices than clinics and pharmacies. Too good to be true? It usually is.

  • Always buy your medicines from registered clinics and pharmacies.

#3 Don’t be fooled by the claims

  • 'Scientific’ claims - Some products may make claims based on scientific studies and evidence. Some go as far as to reference medical journals that have published research papers on the topic. Always consult your doctor or check the HSA website for the list of registered products.

  • ‘100%’ claims - No product out there is completely free of risk. Some of these ‘natural’ or ‘herbal’ products have been found to contain potent medicinal ingredients.

  • ‘Miracle’ claims - Consumers should always be wary of products that promise fast results. These usually come at a price which is not stated within the sales pitch — adverse effects and even death!

  • ‘Personal success’ claims - Marketing gimmicks such as personal testimonials are often employed by sellers. Regardless of how convincing the testimonials are, always view them with a little scepticism. They may not be true accounts.

#4 See your doctor!

  • With the wealth of information that is available over the Internet today, the trend nowadays is for people to self-medicate. This can be dangerous because you may misdiagnose your ailment, and by putting off the visit to the doctor, you run the risk of it getting worse. So always seek proper advice from your doctor on your medical condition.