Are Medicines from Overseas Safe?

김민, 서채원, 이지희, 오주현l승인2019.09.03l수정2019.09.03 20:18l372호 1면






  These days, an overseas direct purchase method of prescription medication is becoming more popular because products that cannot be purchased in Korea can be easily obtained overseas at low prices. Furthermore, the number of directives for medicines is also increasing forcing consumers to look elsewhere for solutions. However, problems caused by overseas direct purchases of medications are on the rise. To be more specific, professional medicines that require medical prescription and diagnosis are being imported indiscriminately and these kinds of medicines are being misused by consumers. Consumers need to be cautious because their safety is not secured when purchasing unregulated medicines overseas.

▲ A growing number of consumers are purchasing and using medical supplies through overseas directives. The use of drugs through foreign directives has led to frequent side effects cases. ( From hollislaw firm)

  The root of the problem is that drugs are being imported without the consent of professional doctors and as a result, can cause serious harm to the health of users. Damages resulting from the unlicensed importation of drugs are on the rise, especially if the product is purchased or used for reasons other than the licensed usage, or if the product itself is an unlicensed medicine and is banned from importation. In fact, as a result of purchasing and using eye drops that were made popular by claims that they improved the length and abundance of your lashes, users experienced pigmentation around the eyes and itchiness, rather than the intended result. In addition, people who used the hair loss pills called 'Finasteride' experienced unwanted side effects too, such as worsening of their hair loss, chronic fatigue, and even acne.

  As the number of cases of overseas direct purchased medicine increases, The Korean Consumer Agency has investigated the distribution and declaration of 30 specialized drugs through 15 illegal overseas websites and substitution websites for purchasing foreign goods. The investigation revealed that all pharmaceutical products could be purchased without prescription. 19 of the surveyed products were professional medicines that needed doctor's prescriptions, but were being imported recklessly. 3 were medicines were not even approved for sale in Korea, whereas the other 8 were specialized medicines that are common in foreign countries, but require a prescription in Korea.

  The reason for the safety problems of these medicines is that there is no clear criteria for customers to obtain clearance for these medicines. If the Ministry of Food and Drug Safety and the Ministry of Environment were to deliver a list of products and ingredients that require major monitoring to the Korean Customs Services, they would be able to better enforce product regulations based on this list. However, the Ministry of Food and Drug safety said, ‘Since many products come in under different names, the Korean Customs Service is having difficulty regulating the importation and distribution of these illegal drugs.’ The second reason for the exacerbation of the problem is the abuse of our customs laws. Most of these drugs come into the country by abusing the ‘Standard for Self-Use’ law. This is a system under which small amounts imported for self-use purposes are exempted from import declaration and tariffs. The law is being abused by changing the product containers or enclosing false prescriptions and hence deceiving customs by omitting banned ingredients. On such safety issues, the Korean Consumer Agency argued that the improvement of customs rules for specialized drugs, such as disaggregating the criteria for recognizing their own use is needed. Also, they suggested the Ministry of Food and Drug Safety monitor illegal websites for medicines and strengthen consumer education. As for consumers, it is recommended that they refrain from purchasing medicines that have not gone through normal customs clearance procedures.

  The DKH conducted an interview with a representative of the Ministry of Food and Drug Safety about the reasons why foreign medicines can be imported directly and about implementing new regulations. According to the Ministry, apart from pharmacies that are legally approved to sell medicines, the distribution of both prescription-based and non-prescription medicine is prohibited and is in violation of pharmacists’ laws. However, while the online distribution of foreign medicines is prohibited, imports are still possible because of the difficulty in applying domestic laws. Also, they added that most people seem to think the related regulations are weak because of the high number of cases of damages resulting from the direct purchase of overseas medicine. In order to prevent the illegal trade of medicines, they are currently implementing stronger regulations that prohibit imports of medicines that have been identified to frequently cause problems and by continuously sharing this list with the Korean Customs Services. In addition, they said that they are monitoring websites where medicines or other products from overseas are traded using the help of a cyber research group. Finally, they emphasized that consumers should not order medicines online because if they purchase it without a prescription, they will never know the risks and their safety cannot be guaranteed.

  As a result, consumers who tend to buy drugs from overseas should be careful every time. It is dangerous for customers to purchase medical products from overseas without a doctor's prescription because their safety has not been verified by an expert. This problem has also resulted from the poor regulations stemming from the Korean Customs Office and its ambiguous and lax operations. To protect consumers and prevent future drug misuse by ensuring the safety of imports of direct foreign medicines, the Ministry of Food and Drug Safety should continuously monitor and block access to illegal drug sales sites. Moreover, they need to provide more consumer education to provide information on the risks of the adverse effects of these medicines and to support education for consumers discouraging them from purchase. These measures will reduce the risk of importation of medicines directly from foreign countries and create a healthier society.

▲ Customs clearance method of prescription-based medicine imported from overseas(Table from Korea Consumer Agency's report)


김민, 서채원, 이지희, 오주현
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