Woman in Singapore says her husband abuses prescription drugs he buys on Telegram, Latest Singapore News - The New Paper

Woman in Singapore says her husband abuses prescription drugs he buys on Telegram

Amy (not her real name) has been fighting a losing battle to get her husband to stop abusing prescription medication.

Amy, who is in her mid-twenties, said her husband fell in with the wrong crowd and started abusing painkillers in 2019.

His drug habit was so bad he stopped working. In 2021, she had an abortion after finding out she was pregnant.

“I had the abortion because he said he could not take responsibility for the child. Even then, he refused to accompany me to the clinic,” she said.

“In fact, he was taking pills and cough syrup when I was on the way to the clinic.”

He has not been able to quit, even now.

“He has been in and out of the police station and the Institute of Mental Health multiple times, and has also overdosed on the pills,” she said.

Amy said her husband relies on sellers on Telegram to provide him with his supply of cough syrups, painkillers such as tramadol and Lyrica, and sedatives including Valium and midazolam, commonly referred to as “pink lady”.

He sometimes visits the red-light district in Geylang to buy prescription medication as well.

On April 18, The Straits Times spotted two men openly selling slabs of prescription drugs in Lorong 22 Geylang.

Amy showed ST screenshots of conversations her husband has had with sellers on Telegram.

After placing orders with them, the prescription drugs are delivered without labels.

She agreed to speak to ST to raise awareness about the issue of prescription drug abuse in Singapore.

“I’ve tried calling for help, but he is too numbed by the pills. He has been jobless since he was introduced to the drugs. He can’t quit,” she said.

She added that he used to work in the food and beverage industry before his addiction to the drugs.

“I’ve not given up on him, but I am also a victim of drug abuse.”

Online sellers

Checks by ST showed that there were at least six groups of self-proclaimed pharmacists on messaging app Telegram, some boasting thousands of members.

Cough syrups were advertised for sale at between $18 and $35 a bottle. Neurostimulants like armodafinil; painkillers such as tramadol and Lyrica; and benzodiazepines – a class of depressants – like midazolam cost between $15 a pill and up to $50 for a slab.

Mr Narasimman Tivasiha Mani, executive director at youth mental health charity Impart, said that he has noticed an increase in young people abusing prescription medication since the pandemic.

The 40-year-old, who works with youth and people facing adversities, said more individuals have come to him to seek assistance to combat their prescription medication habits.

“The rise in prescription drug abuse among youth seems to correlate with the increased accessibility of these medications through online channels,” he said.

“Platforms like Telegram provide a convenient and seemingly discreet way for individuals to obtain prescription drugs without a prescription, contributing to the growing trend.”

He added that abusers are also producing their own cocktails, to enhance or mimic the highs associated with illegal drugs.

Mr Gopal Mahey, senior counsellor at the Centre for Psychotherapy, said younger people are drawn to the idea that prescription drugs are safer than illegal ones because they are legal and come from medical sources.“Social media and chat channels have also made these (drugs) simply accessible,” he said.

Sellers on Telegram advertising prescription drugs for sale. PHOTO: ST READER

Drug cocktails

Dave (not his real name) said he first heard about such drug cocktails for sale from his friends.

The 35-year-old, who works in his family-owned business, said: “A few people in my group had heard about it and told me to try a popcorn-flavoured cough syrup.”

He then started abusing drugs such as Xanax, Ritalin and nitrazepam, commonly known as Epam. The drugs are used to treat conditions including attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), anxiety and insomnia.

The ease of choosing what he wanted, ordering everything online and having them delivered made it harder for him to stop, he said.

“I used Telegram more than a few times, and it was very efficient. They usually deliver at night, but it was so convenient because they delivered it to my home,” said Dave.

He spent between $300 and $400 on the drugs every month at the time.

In 2023, he was caught while on his way to collect marijuana.

Said Dave: “I don’t recall much of what happened. I know that I went to collect weed, and then I was in a police car.”

Dave was charged with possession and consumption of cannabis. He is currently out on bail.

Tony (not his real name) said he was around 14 when he started experimenting with drugs. He said he was initially influenced by movies and music he liked.

“I would steal my dad’s medication when I was younger, and I ended up having sort of an addiction to those drugs for a long time,” said the 25-year-old.

He then abused cough syrup, antidepressants and anti-anxiety medication such as Epam, Xanax and Valium.

“I guess I was looking for a rush of euphoria, or numbness. Any stress or anxiety I had would go straight out of the window. But I always regretted it even then, because the lows were severe when the drugs wore off,” he said.

“There were times when I found myself taking five pills, and my friend was only taking one. That was when I knew there might be a problem.”

At 18, he was convicted for consumption of marijuana.

Jail sentence

The Health Sciences Authority (HSA) said prescription medication including codeine-containing cough medicine, sedatives, opioid painkillers, modafinil and armodafinil can be supplied only by a doctor or a pharmacist.

This is because they contain potent ingredients.

“Taking these medicine inappropriately for non-medical uses or without medical supervision can be dangerous, as they can cause serious adverse effects,” said HSA.

It added that it is prohibited to import, sell or supply prescription medicine without a licence, with offenders risking fines of up to $50,000 and a jail sentence of up to two years.

The authority said that prescription medicine available online are likely from dubious sources and not registered by HSA, adding that they may be adulterated, fake or substandard.

“There is no knowing where these products were manufactured, and how they were made and stored,” HSA said, adding that they can also cause serious side effects.

For instance, the adverse effects for codeine-containing cough medicine, sedatives and opioid painkillers can include drowsiness, confusion, respiratory depression, hallucinations, as well as development of physical and psychological dependence.

HSA said it works closely with the administrators of local e-commerce and social media platforms to regularly monitor, detect and remove sale listings of prescription medicine.

On average, it has removed about 10 listings of codeine-containing cough medicine, sedatives, opioid painkillers and modafinil/armodafinil per year over the past five years.

It also monitors the illegal sale of prescription medicine on instant messaging apps such as Telegram, and has taken enforcement actions including raids, seizure of illegal medicine, and prosecution against those involved in the illegal sales.