Health department does U-turn on ban on fever drugs


Fri, May 23, 2003 - Page 3

The Department of Health (DOH) did a U-turn on its ban on fever suppressants yesterday, saying the drugs are not totally banned but instead should be more tightly controlled.

Wang Huei-po (王惠珀), director of the DOH's Bureau of Pharmaceutical Affairs, made the remarks after the department demanded on Wednesday that drug stores terminate sales of fever reducing drugs as of yesterday due to concerns the drugs could be used to conceal SARS symptoms.

Wang said the DOH has not imposed such a ban, but added the department hopes pharmacists will probe consumers about their illness and notify health authorities about potential SARS cases.

He said pharmacies should help screen for those who have developed a fever of more than 38?C, diarrhea or coughing, or have visited SARS-affected areas.

The mandate left pharmacies and consumers confused.

"The communication breakdown has caused public panic," said Chen Cheng-hsiung (陳正雄), secretary-general of the Taipei Pharmacists' Association.

The association received a barrage of calls yesterday from pharmacists asking for clarification.

Many were unclear whether drugstores were allowed to sell fever suppressants, since news reports on Wednesday sounded like a ban.

Watsons Taiwan, the nation's largest health and drugstore chain with 223 outlets, also said the mandate lacked clarity.

"We heard about the new instructions late last night, while we didn't receive the official notice until this afternoon," said Brenda Kou (寇碧茹), senior communications manager at Watsons Taiwan.

In order to comply with the rule, Watsons decided to temporarily take most drugs containing fever suppressants off the shelves, but to allow customers to get them directly from pharmacists, she said.

The retailer also requires purchasers of fever medicines to leave their name and contact information.

The announcement also aroused consumer uneasiness.

Worried consumers began stocking up on the drugs, including Panadol, Nocks capsules or Bufferin tablets.

"Today several customers bought five or six packages of fever medicine at once," said a Watsons salesperson surnamed Lee on Nanking East Road.

The store was nearly sold-out of stock yesterday, she added.

Wang said people usually have a stock of medicine such as aspirin at home to counter fever, but added that if they try to deal with their fever themselves, they may cover up the symptoms of atypical pneumonia and make it more difficult for medical care personnel to determine if they have SARS.

He said that the experience of the emergency rooms of such major health-care centers demonstrates that most people try to deal with their fever themselves and only seek emergency treatment if the fever does not go away.