For close to two years, a pharmacist fabricated records to hide the fact that he was selling excessive quantities of cough syrup to individuals, and pocketed more than S$200,000 in profits.
On Wednesday (Dec 7), William Woo Tat Meng, 58, was sentenced to eight months and three weeks in jail for selling nearly 2,500L of codeine-based cough syrup illegally — the first pharmacist to be convicted of the offence under the Poisons Act.
He pleaded guilty to three charges, which include providing false information to the authorities.
Under the Act, pharmacists are not allowed to sell more than two bottles or 240ml of such cough syrup at any one time, and are required to record particulars of customers who buy them.
Woo, who owns Community Pharmacy in Bukit Timah Plaza, sold three to 12 bottles of Dhasedyl syrup per customer, charging S$18 to S$20 per 120ml-bottle.
The court charges showed that he dispensed a total of 20,440 bottles between May 7, 2013 and April 23, 2015.
To sell more of the cough medicine and to avoid detection from the authorities, Woo entered false information in his dispensing record books, using fictitious names or re-entering previous customers’ details.
When he was questioned by the authorities, he revealed that he had been carrying out these acts for the past 10 years. He also admitted that about 90 per cent of his records were falsified.
His modus operandi came to light on April 10, 2015, when an enforcement officer from the Health Sciences Authority (HSA) conducted a routine audit at his pharmacy. The officer found that Woo’s dispensing records showed an active retail sale of cough syrup, and that his room contained six cartons of the medicine.
Following a surveillance by the HSA later that month, 14 bottles of cough syrup were seized from a customer who left Woo’s pharmacy.
Investigations revealed that the customer paid S$280 for the cough syrup (S$20 per bottle) and that Woo did not ask for his particulars during the sale. He also entered 14 fictitious names for the 14 bottles sold.
The customer, a Malaysian who has been working in Singapore since 2000, told the authorities that he found out from friends that cough syrup may be easily bought from Woo’s pharmacy. The cost was $18 a bottle, but it would go up to $20 a bottle if more than six bottles were bought.
Woo admitted to the authorities that he made a profit of about S$11.45 a bottle, and these sales were not recorded.
During investigations, Woo told HSA that he made between S$10,000 and S$12,000 per month from the legal and illegal sales of Dhasedyl syrup. However, the authorities estimated that the profits made from the illegal sales were between $244,529 and $285,409 for the May 2013 and April 2015 period.
In sentencing Woo, District Judge Jasvender Kaur said that he had abused his position as a pharmacist and was well aware that codeine is a potentially addictive substance that is abused by drug addicts in between their consumption of illicit drugs.
“It is all the more serious as the accused was doing (this) to profit from the illegal sales, which encourage and facilitate codeine abuse,” she added.