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Secret Trade In Abortion Tablets: Chemists Selling Drug Without Demanding Doctors’ Presciptions

By RASHAD ROLLE

Tribune Staff Reporter

rrolle@tribunemedia.net

THE illegal sale of a drug obtained without a prescription but used to cause abortions has been uncovered by The Tribune.

At least one pharmacy visited by a Tribune investigator in the Over-the-Hill area was happy to hand over the drug - Cytotec - even though it should only be given after a doctor’s prescription is received. Health Minister Dr Duane Sands said he has received anecdotal reports about the sale of the drug.

The Tribune’s investigator went to a pharmacy and told the pharmacist he needed the drug for his girlfriend who was five-weeks pregnant and wanted an abortion.

The pharmacist told him he had none in stock at the time, but immediately referred him to another pharmacy where he was able to buy five of the pills for $20 each. At no point was he asked for a prescription.

In fact, the pharmacist gave The Tribune’s investigator the names of two doctors he should contact should the girlfriend have any problems after taking the pills.

In a recent interview, Dr Leon Dupuch, the immediate past head of Princess Margaret Hospital’s Department of Obstetrics & Gynaecology, expressed alarm at the number of women coming to the hospital after an attempted abortion goes wrong, a problem he tied to Cytotec use.

“Women and girls arriving in the hospital’s emergency room very often are bleeding excessively and many end up requiring emergency surgery,” he said. “On occasion, a potentially viable baby is delivered with remnants of these pills – which, having been inserted in the mother’s vagina and failed to dissolve – are stuck to its feet, limbs and torso.”

The Tribune could not obtain statistics on the number of failed abortion attempts dealt with in the public healthcare system.

Use of Cytotec for abortions is not a new or recent development in the Bahamas even though it is illegal without a prescription. The drug is used for managing heavy bleeding after birth and other purposes but should be used in a controlled environment and under the supervision of a qualified physician, Dr Dupuch said. The World Health Organisation says misoprostol––which is sold under the brand name Cytotec––can be used to safely induce an abortion but recommends a clinical follow-up to ensure complete abortion has happened.

Gina Archer Carey, chairperson of the Bahamas Pharmacy Council, said she is unaware of any formal complaints being made about the dispersal of the drug without a prescription. She said medical professionals who are aware of a problem are obligated to report it.

“We have no issue of sending someone in to find out what is going on,” she said yesterday. “It’s illegal. If we find that this is happening, we would refer the matter to the police. When you give persons these things without a prescription, you are putting their lives at risk. That’s not something we take lightly. I would love to have a complaint so we could address it because that’s really disturbing.”

Nonetheless, policing the sale of such drugs is difficult, Dr Sands said yesterday, because those who obtain them are not forthcoming about how they got them even when complications develop.

“Victims are unwilling to confess on the record as to where they would’ve gotten the medication from,” he said. “The issue of whether there is a protocol that exists to deal with this is difficult because it’s hard to act in the absence of a complaint. It speaks to some of the weakness in the legislation. As health minister, I cannot ignore an anecdotal complaint that emanates from such a doctor who has clearly raised the alarm. If there is one case where illicit use of a drug may have resulted in injury then as awkward and uncomfortable as it is, we are obliged to listen and to act on it. If there is evidence that there is a pharmacy or pharmacist who is acting outside of the law then we don’t have the volition to give a nod and say, we ain’t worried about that today.”

Some health professionals say cultural conservatism is the root of the problem, that the illegal procuration of such drugs is inevitable in a society where women do not have legitimate ways of ending unwanted pregnancies. Some observers emphasise the disparities that exist, with legal abortion easily accessible to Bahamian women who can afford to get them abroad.

Dr Sands said it is not among the Minnis administration’s priorities to address abortion legislatively, calling the issue political kryptonite. He said his ministry has generated a list of “flagged pharmacies” that warrant greater inspection and evaluation. Among other things, officials are concerned about questionable practices like the delivery of generic medications alleged to be brand name drugs, he said.

“Illegal numbers before it was legalised was the worst kept secret of all,” he said. “It’s illegal, wink wink, it doesn’t really happen, wink wink, and then the discussion took on a surreal turn when there was an opinion poll/and the public said we don’t wish to legalise and regulate numbers and the administration did something different. When you start talking about abortion, you really talking about an emotive issue. You have to acknowledge there are things that are happening which are indeed illegal.”

Comments

joeblow 8 months, 1 week ago

Pharmacies, in particular those over the Hill, have been selling medications without prescriptions for decades (antibiotics etc you name it). But them again, Haitians have been selling antibiotics and other medications in shanty towns and ghetto communities for decades too!

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Well_mudda_take_sic 8 months, 1 week ago

Why didn't the reporter (Rashad Rolle) bother to find out which licensed drug wholesaler is importing and distributing Cytotec to the pharmacies that are in turn selling it over-the-counter without a prescription? The licensed drug wholersaler should know from the unusually high quantities of Cytotec being purchased that its customers, i.e. the pharmacies, are illegally dispensing this product without the required prescription.

Perhaps our Minister of Health who loves so much to be in the news will get off of his duff and arrange for an appropriate investigating to be done so that criminal charges that may be warranted could be pressed against the wholesaler and pharmacists concerned. One would think that as a minimum the pharmacies/pharmacists involved in the practice of dispensing drugs without the required medical prescription from a physician would lose their business license and/or pharmacist license.

If this practice is widespread, the entire leadership team of the Bahamas Pharmacy Council itself should not be free of consequences in this most serious matter.

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Hoda 8 months, 1 week ago

Perhaps its time to have sensible conversations with young people about reproductive health and family planning.

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Well_mudda_take_sic 8 months, 1 week ago

Have you recently tried to have a sensible conversation with an illiterate grade F - educated young person from a broken home? Sadly they now constitute most of the young people in our country today. As a society we are reaping today what corrupt governments (PLP and FNM alike) have been sowing for us since the late 1960s. Good luck having those sensible conversations with the average young Bahamian.

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Well_mudda_take_sic 8 months, 1 week ago

And by the way, the average young person is unlikely to even be a 'true' Bahamian today.

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Chucky 8 months, 1 week ago

Family planning is an oxymoron. The only people who plan to have kids are those couples who don’t easily get pregnant. Statistics are 96% of respondents in a pregnancy survey admitted their babies were happy mistakes.

Point is, obviously the only difference between teens and parents is the parents might be more willing to keep (have) and raise a child.

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hrysippus 8 months, 1 week ago

I thought that these pills were sold over the counter, no prescription necessary, in most of the more civilised countries of the world. A lot of fuss over nothing.

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joeblow 8 months, 1 week ago

... abortion is illegal (against the law) in the Bahamas!!

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TheMadHatter 8 months, 1 week ago

Yes, in civilized countries - of which we are not in that grouping.

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joeblow 8 months, 1 week ago

…@TheMadHatter, IMHO killing unborn humans due to adult irresponsibility is never civilized, especially in an age of contraception!

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bogart 8 months, 1 week ago

All females having abortion pills available. Part of the equation is the male and if the female must be at stiuation to go through the hurtful forever scarring life altering event life taking, then in all fairness then the male must be made to take the same pill, perhaps his pee pee will drop off and others knowing will be more careful better putting their peepee there and with commitment to raising offspring even by himself.

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bogart 8 months, 1 week ago

Going to the root of the sadly unwanted babies must have been foremost Catholic education starting in Church and in other Religious Faiths especially there seems some 3,000 buildings, groups, meeting areas etc claiming to be such and tax free benefits accorded to them in return to being a respected much dependant pillar of society learning the youths.

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Chucky 8 months ago

For Catholics birth control is not allowed, so you guessed it they developed a habit to get around the obstacle; you guessed it they diddle little boys.

Done over and over anywhere there is a catholic institution there is diddling.

Statistically the most rapes and abuses are committed by Catholics, more than all other groups combined.

And yes, they do this tax free and un challenged for the most part

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Revolutionary 8 months, 1 week ago

Shame on the Tribune and Rashad Rolle for this terrible article! Our kids are still taught abstinence instead of sexual education, we have no legal abortion procedure, conservatives vilify family planning, the government fails to change any of this....and yall point at the pharmacy's? The people trying to help families, even at legal risk. They even direct them to doctors to make sure they're ok and you say it like it's a bad thing! This isn't journalism, this is pathetic.

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Well_mudda_take_sic 8 months, 1 week ago

You clearly missed the point about the dangers of medications/drugs being dispensed by some pharmacies without the required prescription of a medical doctor.

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Chucky 8 months ago

Pharmacists have essentially the same education as a doctor, at least in the real world.

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TheMadHatter 8 months, 1 week ago

No Mudda, you missed the point that the women who take these drugs with doctor supervision, would rather die than have another baby to add to the 5 they already can't afford. Now this reporter and the govt are going to effectively tie them with ropes to the bedposts of their bed until they produce a live birth. Then you and i will pay VAT and other taxes to raise it.

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joeblow 8 months, 1 week ago

… women have a variety of contraceptive options available and those who have more than three children can have their tubes tied if they don't want another! Terminating developing life is simply wrong!

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TalRussell 8 months, 1 week ago

It hasn't exactly been kept secret from reaching the Tribune, when for years the most seasoned street and jibs comrade journalists - has been reporting lots about the selling legal drugs, illegally.

What assurances are there that controls are in place, and working as intended, to block the import and sale of falsified and substandard drugs - including the counterfeiting brand name drugs - something of which the Chinese, have become the world's most efficient supplier of?

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