FPMPAM: Don’t Lump Medicine Admin Breaches With Criminal Drug Trafficking

The doctors’ group also wants a regulatory impact assessment by all stakeholders on proposed changes to the Poisons Act before the amendment Bill is passed in Parliament.

KUALA LUMPUR, March 17 – The Federation of Private Medical Practitioners’ Associations, Malaysia (FPMPAM) today told the Ministry of Health (MOH) not to treat administrative breaches in managing medications by health care providers like the criminal abuse of substances like psychotropics. 

The doctors’ group pointed out that the original objective of the Poisons Act 1952 was to regulate medicines, not the criminal use and abuse of registered substances like psychotropics and precursors (an inactive substance converted into an active one) that should be regulated under the Penal Code instead.

FPMPAM said it was informed by MOH previously that proposed amendments to the Poisons Act were meant to specifically address the lack of provisions on counterfeit medicines, the trafficking of psychotropics, precursor diversion, and computerised record transmission.

The current Poisons Act, the doctors’ group noted, does not have provisions on specific user licences for controlling and curbing irregularities in the use of chemical substances for psychotropics and precursors, as required under Malaysia’s obligations to the International Convention on psychotropics and precursors.

“Unfortunately, the amendments call for a blanket increase in fines and jail terms for virtually all offences prescribed in the Act,” FPMPAM president Dr Steven Chow said in a statement today, referring to the Poisons amendment Bill 2022 that was tabled in the Dewan Rakyat Monday.

“All registered items and its use, be it as part of bona fide medical and health care, are lumped together with criminal activities and  painted with the same brush. 

“The amended Act has no provisions to differentiate the proper use of medical and health care products and criminal activities dealing with trafficking and diversion. This opens the enforcement process to potential abuse.”

FPMPAM acknowledged the occurrence of “minor” breaches in the daily running of clinics and pharmacies due to lapses of administration or human oversight.

Dr Chow, however, pointed out that unlike the private sector that is subject to criminalisation under the Poisons amendment Bill, similar lapses that occur in public hospitals and pharmacies are usually addressed with in-house training and administrative measures.

“Contrary to usual practice, the amendments have included provisions for micro-managing the storage and sales of poisons. The law should only provide broad provisions and not the  micro-management details, which should subsequently be spelt out in the supporting regulations,” he said.

“Offences of a technical nature, for example recording or labelling, should be clearly identified by amendments and the appropriate minimum penalty should be set and allowed to be compounded.”

Proposed amendments revise general penalties for offences under the Poisons Act from the maximum one-year jail term to up to five years’ imprisonment, besides increasing 17-fold the maximum quantum for fines from RM3,000 to RM50,000.

The Poisons amendment Bill 2022 also substantially enhances the powers of pharmacy enforcement officers in the public sector that investigate private general practitioner (GP) clinics, vet clinics, dental clinics, and community pharmacies for any medicine-related offences under the Poisons Act. 

“Surely, our MPs cannot justify the blanket increase of fines from 1,000 per cent to 4,000 per cent (as in some provisions) is needed to keep bona fide medical and health care professionals in line.

“As for the increase in jail term, do our MPs really think that the ever-present threat of serving jail time for our health care professionals is the best way to encourage appropriate and compassionate care for our rakyat?” FPMPAM questioned.

Dr Chow also pointed out that even with a 50 per cent reduction in compounds of offences, the increased quantum of fines could cost medical practitioners their medical licence for an administrative breach under the Poisons Act.

“It is clear that there is a need for a more deterrent approach for offences of a criminal nature (for example diversion, trafficking, and counterfeit). This should be addressed with other appropriate laws and not just conveniently lumped into the generic amendments to the Poisons Act.

“We strongly urge our MPs on both sides of the House to examine closely the potential perverse long-term effects on the entire medical and health care service and supply chain if the Bill is passed in its current form.”

FPMPAM thus called for a regulatory impact assessment (RIA) involving all stakeholders on the government’s proposed amendments to the Poisons Act, saying the Bill would affect the present cost-effective one-stop outpatient care system that provides primary care for many patients.

According to the Malaysia Productivity Corporation’s (MPC) official portal on Good Regulatory Practice, RIA is a process of identifying the expected effects of a regulatory proposal, such as a cost-benefit analysis. 

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