High demand boosts black market for Covid drug

By Le Phuong, Chi Le   March 7, 2022 | 08:53 pm PT
High demand boosts black market for Covid drug
People buy molnupiravir drugs at a pharmacy in Hanoi, March 2022. Photo by VnExpress/Loc Chung
With drug stores requiring doctor prescriptions to sell Covid-19 drugs containing molnupiravir, patients are turning to get them in the black market.

Hanoi resident Quang, 35, was asked by relatives in Bac Giang Province, which borders the capital city, if he could help buy a box of the molnupiravir drug.

On Sunday, he checked with several groups on social media to see if he could buy the drug online.

Shortly after, he received dozens of offers to sell the drug.

Some left a phone number for him to contact, some advertised 96 made-in-Vietnam pills for VND1 million ($44). Others sent him photos of drugs, including those imported from India, for VND1 million and more.

"There are too many sellers, too many prices. Some even offered me wholesale deals, but all transactions are made online and I could not tell which one was credible," Quang said.

Finally, he decided to buy a box of Molnupiravir Stella as "it was the one on the newspaper."

His relative in Bac Giang had contracted Covid-19 four days earlier and been experiencing symptoms of fatigue, chills and fever. While the patient was already registered with the commune’s medical center, buying molnupiravir was not possible without a doctor's prescription.

The Ministry of Health approved three anti-Covid-19 drugs containing molnupiravir for emergency use last month and several drug stores have started selling them.

However, many people have not been able to buy them because drug stores will only sell molnupiravir drugs to Covid-19 patients with documents to confirm their infection and a valid doctor's prescription.

Last week, Khue, 40, another Hanoi resident, visited many drug stores to get the medicine for her husband, but no one agreed to sell it to her without a prescription with a stamp from doctors.

Her husband got Covid-19 for the first time in January and as he was struggling with long Covid, he got infected again, recently. He wants to take the drug and get the virus out his system as soon as possible.

The family cannot reach out to the medical center in their ward for needed documents as it is overloaded with patients.

On her friend’s advice, Khue bought two boxes of molnupiravir at VND300,000 each from an online seller named Phuong Anh.

"The more I get the drug the more I can sell as the demand is so high," said Phuong Anh.

Anh is selling Vietnam-made drug at VND750,000 per box of 100 pills and VND250,000-300,000 per box of 20 pills. The Indian drug will cost three times higher as it is more effective, she added.

In HCMC, Huy, who advertises himself as a pharmacist with 20 years of experience, is selling molnupiravir to whoever wants it.

He said he has been selling out repeatedly. Huy is offering different brands, with product prices ranging from VND250,000 to VND1.2 million.

Public health risk

Drug manufacturers, including Boston Pharmaceutical JSC Vietnam and Sellapharm J.V. Co. Ltd, have confirmed that they will only supply drugs under contract to pharmacies and not retail them in the market.

On March 5, the Ministry of Health proposed that the prime minister allows people to use video recording of a patient taking the rapid test and showing the positive result for buying molnupiravir from drug stores in order to avoid further overloading of the healthcare system.

"It’s very dangerous when people turn to the black market for this drug as they could end up buying counterfeit products, not to mention pay high prices," said medical expert Tran Si Tuan, former editor-in-chief of Suc Khoe & Doi Song, a publication of the Health Ministry.

Doctor Do Van Dung, head of the Public Health Department of the HCMC University of Medicine and Pharmacy, said "in taking the drugs sold online without guidance from doctors, both the quality and quantity of the drugs are not guaranteed and this could lead to drug resistance, creating a public health risk."

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