More than 110 million sleeping pills containing zolpidem were prescribed in Taiwan last year, marking per capita annual consumption of nearly five pills, Department of Health (DOH) officials said on Tuesday.
A subsequent probe found that at least 50 people consumed the drugs -- covered by national health insurance -- in an amount "beyond imagination," with one consumer getting more than 7,300 pills with doctor's prescriptions in a period of six months, the officials said.
The DOH has issued 17 marketing certificates for depressants and sleeping pills containing zolpidem, a prescription medication used for the short-term treatment of insomnia. Among these, the most popular in Taiwan is Stilnox, said Hsu Ping-chang (許炳章), head of the second division of the DOH National Bureau of Controlled Drugs.
Citing bureau statistics, Hsu said that 55.79 million pills of Stilnox were prescribed in Taiwan last year.
The bureau received many reports from hospitals and clinics around the island suggesting that people were being paid to get Stilnox prescriptions at hospitals and clinics, Hsu said.
Since the cost of the medication is covered by the national insurance system, the DOH suspects that many of the people who got prescriptions for large amounts of Stilnox over the past half year were paid to do so by drug traffickers, Hsu said.
The probe found that one woman from Taipei acquired 7,398 Stilnox-containing sleeping pills during the January-June period, making her the largest single consumer.
The second-largest Stilnox consumer was found to have acquired 7,137 pills from various medical facilities, Hsu said, noting that such a volume would mean that the person was consuming an average of 40 pills of Stilnox per day.
These two people, along with 15 others, have been blacklisted by the DOH, which has imposed restrictions against their requests for Stilnox, Hsu said.
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