Chinese medicine doctor suspended for toxic prescriptions

08/02/2020 08:35 PM
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Packets of Chinese medicine with excessive levels of lead/ Photo courtesy of the Health Bureau of the Taichung City Government
Packets of Chinese medicine with excessive levels of lead/ Photo courtesy of the Health Bureau of the Taichung City Government

Update: Chinese medicine doctors, dealer detained in lead poisoning case

Taichung, Aug. 2 (CNA) A doctor at a Taichung-based traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) clinic has been suspended for prescribing drugs containing heavy metals that led to lead poisoning in at least nine patients.

The city's Health Bureau has suspended the Sheng Tang Chinese Medicine Clinic's (盛唐中醫) chief practitioner Lu Shih-ming (呂世明) for 30 days for giving patients medicines with excessive levels of lead, said bureau director Tseng Tzu-chan (曾梓展) at a press event.

Lu was also fined NT$100,000 (US$3,000) for not recording the parts of the prescriptions containing heavy metals in the patients' medical records, in violation of the Physicians Act (醫師法), according to Tseng.

The case has been handed over to the Taichung District Prosecutors Office for further investigation, and Lu could face a maximum NT$500,000 fine for the incomplete patient records.

If the investigation reveals more serious violations of the Act, including confirmation that he harmed his patients and gave them toxic medicines, Lu could have his license revoked and face criminal liability.

The problem drugs involve those paid for by the patients because they were not covered by the National Health Insurance system, making it easier for him to leave them out of patient records.

Tseng said Lu admitted that he included powder of the mineral cinnabar, which contains lead, in the prescriptions given to some of his patients but stressed that it was done by mistake rather than intentionally.

Taiwanese law bans the use of cinnabar powder in TMC and stipulates that the total heavy metal content of TCMs should not exceed 30 ppm, according to the bureau.

The latest test results have shown, however, that the level of lead in some of the problem powders Lu gave to patients reached 15,281 ppm, more than 500 times the maximum allowed level.

An ongoing investigation has found that at least nine of Lu's patients took the toxic drugs, according to the bureau.

The bureau is now trying to determine if more of Lu's patients have had symptoms of lead poisoning, which can include abdominal pain, anemia, and nerve and liver damage, and offered to help them sue Lu if they wished to do so.

It is also urging patients who have developed related symptoms to see a doctor for further checkups.

The case first came to light after Taichung City Councilor Chang Yen-tung (張彥彤) told reporters Friday he had been hospitalized for a month after being diagnosed with lead poisoning.

His father, former Taichung City Council Speaker Chang Hung-nien (張宏年), and two of his family members were also diagnosed with lead poisoning by doctors after they complained of abdominal pain.

They are all hospitalized at present, he said.

The whole family has been taking TCM drugs prescribed by Lu for a long period of time.

Chang Hung-nien has taken medication doled out by Lu for at least five years, and his latest tests showed him to have a blood lead level of 300 micrograms, far exceeding the normal level of 10 micrograms, according to the younger Chang.

The city councilor later sent the medications Lu gave to him and his family members to the bureau for testing.

(By Hau Hsueh-chin and Joseph Yeh)

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