Straits Times recently reported that the black market of cough syrup in around Lorongs 9 and 11, Geylang has been thriving every night in spite of raids by authorities over the years.
Middle-aged men operated from a makeshift dispensary behind a coffee shop in Geylang Lorong 7. With no medical training or consultation whatsoever, these “doctors” provided these unlabelled plastic bottles hidden inside mailboxes and motorcycle top cases nearby to anyone who is willing to pay.
The cough mixture is believed to contain codeine, an opiate abused by addicts for a “high” that only lasts for a few hours.
According to the Health Sciences Authority, which works with various other agencies to monitor and carry out enforcement operations, the supply of codeine cough preparations is driven by demand. More than 460 litres of codeine cough mixtures an estimated street value of $130,000 were seized from 2016 to last year, with 17 people prosecuted for illegal selling.
During a random visit to the illegal dispensaries by The Sunday Times last Wednesday night (3 April 2019), male customers in their 20s to 40s were observed approaching a man in his 40s at the coffee shop. Over the course of an hour or so, there were at least 10 buyers, with several of them purchasing a few bottles of the brown liquid at one go.
One of the peddlers even claimed that his cough mixture is “homemade”.
The transactions do not last more than 30 seconds each while at least two other people stood in strategic positions inside the shop and along the road to “lookout” for law enforcement in the vicinity.
Despite their discreet operations, their brisk business leaves an easy trail of used bottles to trace back the peddlers. The Sunday Times noted about 30 empty bottles discarded along pavements and drains in the area.
Abusers usually purchase the mixture from the black market due to the strict laws on clinics and doctors who are not allowed to prescribe more than 240 ml of cough mixture containing codeine to one patient at a time.
This leaves the abusers no choice but to fuel their addiction by buying the pricier black-market cough mixtures which are produced with little or no quality control.
Each 90ml bottle costs between $20 and $30 on the black market whereas a similar bottle at a clinic would cost between $7 and $13.
Anyone caught illegally importing or selling cough preparations containing codeine can be fined up to $50,000, or jailed for up to two years, or both.
Geylang’s notoriety as an illegal business hotspot for codeine has led to many raids and operations by the authorities.
Back in May 2015, the Health Sciences Authority (HSA) seized more than $200,000 worth of illegal health products, including over 94,000 units of mainly sexual enhancement drugs from a Geylang apartment that was discovered during a routine enforcement check by the Immigration & Checkpoints Authority (ICA).
On 23 December the same year, four men in their 20s were arrested and illegal drugs worth about $40,000 such as cough syrup, prescription drugs, and sexual enhancement drugs were seized in a seven-hour joint operation by the HSA, Central Narcotics Bureau (CNB) and the police.
Another enforcement operation by the HSA and Bedok Police Division in September last year uncovered illegally manufactured cough syrup and 1,400 tablets of assorted medicines valued approximately $40,000 at an HDB unit in the vicinity of Geylang Road.