Sale of unauthorised COVID-19 treatment drugs on the rise across social media

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Some of the COVID-19 drugs being advertised on social media. In this promotion photo on Facebook, the blue drugs are said to be for the people who want to prevent the disease, the red drugs are for people who are close contacts of COVID-19 positive cases. — Screenshot photo

HÀ NỘI — As the battle against COVID rages on, some are taking advantage of the anxiety and worry of others to make a fast buck, no matter the consequences.

In recent months, the availability of unapproved, illicit and sometimes dangerous COVID-19 drugs has mushroomed on social media, as desperate people seize at the chance to treat themselves and their loved ones with medicines that have not been approved by doctors.

N.T.L. H, a woman from Hà Nội’s Đống Đa District, told Tin tức (News) newspaper that she paid VNĐ3 million for an allegedly Russian-made COVID-19 drug.

She made the purchase after learning that she had been in close contact with a confirmed case in her office. In response, she browsed the internet for COVID-19 prevention and treatment drugs.

“I found many social network accounts offering COVID-19 drugs. I decided to buy some, just in case I tested positive,” she said.

As the instructions on how to administer the drug were in Russian, she had to rely on the seller’s instructions.

Another woman, N.T.L in Hà Nội’s Long Biên District, bought a COVID-19 drug allegedly made in China for her mother, who tested positive, though only had mild symptoms.

“My mother tested positive for COVID-19, but only had a slight sore throat. The doctor only gave her vitamins, not medicine, for her recovery,” she said.

“I was afraid that my mother’s illness would turn worse so I bought her some medicine,” she said, adding that the medicine buyer told her how to use the medicine. She did not consult a doctor on how to administer the drugs she bought.

The sale of such kinds of drugs has increased sharply on social networks and the internet, as cases rise across the country.

Some Facebook accounts advertise and offer “drug combos”, such as Arbidol virus prophylaxis priced at VNĐ 390,000 per box, for use after contact with a positive case, and Areplivir, priced from VNĐ2.1 – 2.5 million per box. The drug is said to be used much in Russia.

Last September, police in Hà Nội’s Bắc Từ Liêm District seized thousands of COVID-19 treatment pills with Russian labels, without receipts. The seller admitted to taking advantage of the complicated pandemic situation, collecting drugs from online sources and then selling them through his personal Facebook account.

The Ministry of Health warned that the illicit sale of drugs to treat COVID-19 is online rampant, particularly drugs with the active ingredient Molnupiravir, which is being tested in clinical trials, or foreign drugs that have not been approved for use in Việt Nam.

Doctor Nguyễn Trung Cấp, Deputy Director of the Central Hospital for Tropical Diseases, said that drugs to treat COVID-19, especially antiretroviral drugs, are mostly newly-developed ones. The drug’s properties, as well as their effects and toxicity, still need to be studied.

“If people take the drugs without professional consultation, it’s dangerous,” he said.

Patients with COVID-19 should be closely monitored for the best professional guidance, Cấp said, calling on people not to use drugs or follow the advice of sellers without professional medical consultation.

Meanwhile, COVID-19 patients without symptoms or with mild symptoms might not need to take medicine at all, he said.

“Such cases should contact their local doctors, medical facilities or health care workers as soon as possible. Medical staff base their response on the actual situation of each patient to give proper consultation. Doctors will also note any abnormal developments in that patient so that they can be noticed and treated in time,” Cấp said.

According to the Ministry of Health, 51 provinces and cities in Việt Nam have used Molnupiravir to treat mild cases of COVID-19 in controlled environments. More than 300,000 doses of medicine have been distributed to localities.

Last August, the ministry approved the controlled use of Molnupiravir for mild cases of COVID-19 in HCM City.

Thanks to a resolution of the Standing Committee of the National Assembly, from December 30, many special policies are allowed to be implemented to combat the COVID-19 pandemic, including the production of COVID-19 drugs.

Under the resolution, the Minister of Health is empowered to decide which pharmaceutical ingredients are licensed for drug production.

In the case of a shortage of drugs, the Minister of Health can decide on the use of domestically produced drugs if they meet requirements in production, registration for circulation and the consent of the drug manufacturer.

New COVID-19 treatment drugs will be allowed if they are conditionally licensed by one of the stringent regulatory authorities (SRA) announced by the World Health Organisation.

New drugs, produced domestically with the same dosage form, route of administration and contents as those licensed by the SRA, will not need to submit clinical research dossiers in Việt Nam.

Việt Nam has put into use many COVID-19 treatment drugs, including drugs that inhibit viral replication like Molnupiravir, Remdesivir, Favipiravir. Other supportive drugs such as immunosuppressants (Interleukin-6 inhibitors, Baricitinib), anticoagulants, antibiotics, antifungals, herbal medicines, and traditional drugs are also included in the treatment for the COVID-19 patients. — VNS

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