Slim 10 saga
The Slim 10 saga involved a number of people who were diagnosed with adverse health effects after consuming unlicensed weight-loss pills in 2002. Among them were two women who suffered liver failure. They were logistics manager Selvarani Raja, who died from her condition, and actress Andrea D’Cruz, who survived after receiving a liver transplant. Both the importer and the distributor of the pills, Health Biz and TV Media, were fined by the health authorities and paid damages after two civil suits were brought against them by the victims and their families.
Origin and sales in Singapore
The Slim 10 pills were manufactured in China by Yuzhitang Health Products, and imported into Singapore by Health Biz Pte Ltd. Listed as Chinese proprietary medicine and marketed as weight loss supplements, the pills were not tested for banned substances or toxicity before being sold by Health Biz to a retail distributor, TV Media.
By late 2001, TV Media had sold bottles of Slim 10 to NTUC Healthcare Pharmacy and Nishino Pharmaceuticals. The pills were also on sale at the TV Media retail outlet at Beach Road, having been launched for general sale in Singapore in November 2001. By April 2002, over 28,000 bottles of Slim 10 costing S$149.90 per bottle had been sold. A publicity campaign involving local actress Chen Liping also touted the weight-loss capabilities of the Slim 10 pills.
Adverse effects on health and ban
In April 2002, the Health Sciences Authority (HSA) ordered Slim 10 to be taken off the shelves after tests revealed that the pills contained the controlled substance fenfluramine, which was linked to heart-valve problems. Another controlled substance found in Slim 10 pills was nicotinamide, which was not listed on the packaging of the pills. The HSA estimated that around 20,000 people had been exposed to Slim 10. Later, more banned substances in the form of thyroid gland components thyroxine and triiodothyronine were also detected in Slim 10.
By May 2002, the HSA had compiled 16 reports from users of Slim 10 suffering adverse health effects. Of these, 12 reports had come after the HSA’s warning in April. Doctors reported the possible side effects of Slim 10 as hyperthyroidism (leading to heart palpitations or increased blood pressure) and liver toxicity, with two users hospitalised with liver problems.
In May 2002, Slim 10 user Selvarani Raja was admitted to the National University Hospital suffering liver toxicity, which led to liver failure. The 43-year-old Singaporean was a logistics manager at Singapore Technologies, and had taken Slim 10 pills from January 2002. Attempts to find a suitable liver donor for Raja were not successful despite a number of volunteers coming forward, and she was also judged to be too ill to undergo a liver transplant. Raja died from liver failure on 1 June 2002. A State Coroner’s report in March 2003 ruled that her liver failure had been caused by the consumption of Slim 10 pills.
Another Slim 10 user who suffered liver failure was local actress Andrea De Cruz. She had purchased Slim 10 pills from actor and colleague Rayson Tan. Tan and his wife, actress Chen Liping, had been unaware of the toxic effects of the pills and had recommended them to De Cruz.
De Cruz suffered liver failure and was hospitalised in April 2002. She underwent a successful liver transplant after her fiance at the time, Pierre Png, donated part of his liver to her. De Cruz was later put on long-term medication and advised by doctors not to have children because of health risks.
Charges against Slim 10 importer and distributor
In June 2002, the HSA filed charges against Slim 10 importer Health Biz and its president and director, Semon Liu. The 40 charges were for failing to declare the pills poison-free, contravening the Poisons Act, and contravening the Medicines Act. They carried potential punishments of fines and a jail term of two years for each charge.
The case was closed in September 2002 when Health Biz was found guilty on eight counts of failing to declare Slim 10 poison-free and one count of failing to keep import records, and fined S$45,000. Another 32 charges against the company, including that of selling a poisonous substance illegally, were dropped. Health Biz’s import and wholesale dealer licenses were also revoked.
Distributor TV Media was charged in July with 58 counts of selling Slim 10 without a wholesale license and continuing to sell Slim 10 after the product had been banned. TV Media was eventually found guilty of 28 charges and fined S$64,000.
In June 2003, De Cruz sued Slim 10 manufacturers Yuzhitang Health Products, importer HealthBiz and its president Semon Liu, distributors TV Media and fellow actor Rayson Tan, who had sold her the pills. Her negligence suit claimed damages for her injuries and subsequent need for a liver transplant.
The case concluded in October 2003, with Health Biz and TV Media being ordered to pay compensation to De Cruz for medical expenses, suffering, loss of income and legal costs of around S$1.83 million. After an appeal by the two companies, the total award to De Cruz was reduced to around S$1.63 million. The suit against Tan was dismissed, with De Cruz ordered to pay his legal costs.
In February 2004, Sharlin Raja, the sister of victim Selvarani Raja, filed a lawsuit in the High Court against TV Media and Slim 10 retailer NTUC Healthcare, claiming damages for psychiatric injuries suffered by her family arising from Ms Selvarani’s death, her wrongful death and the loss of Ms Selvarani’s income. Both defendants in this case reached an out-of-court settlement with Sharlin Raja.
After news emerged of Slim 10’s adverse health effects, the HSA tested all 45 Chinese proprietary medicines marketed in Singapore as slimming products. Sales of traditional Chinese slimming products reportedly fell by up to 20% after the case.
After the Slim 10 saga, the HSA began reviewing its regulations for the import of medicines, leading to a number of new rules including greater clarity in the labelling of Chinese proprietary medicines, test reports for every consignment of medicines, and more stringent testing. In February 2007, the Health Products Act was introduced, bringing about tougher penalties for those who flout health laws. The Act also gave the HSA more authority to withdraw from public sale medical products that have been tampered with.
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Wong, S. M. (2002, June 19). Importer of Slim 10 faces 17 charges. The Straits Times, p. 4. Retrieved June 26, 2011, from NewspaperSG.
Wong, S. M. (2002, June 19). Slim 10: Another banned substance affected 12 victims. The Straits Times, p. 25. Retrieved June 26, 2011, from NewspaperSG.
Liang, H. T. (2002, May 7). 13 down with hepatitis, thyroid problem after taking Slim 10. The Straits Times, p. 7. Retrieved June 26, 2011, from NewspaperSG.
The information in this article is valid as at 2011 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.
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