Australians are being warned not to import and self-prescribe the anti-malarial drug hydroxychloroquine as a possible treatment for COVID-19, following a surge in detections by Australian Border Force (ABF) officers screening medical supplies crossing the border.
Dozens of consignments, totalling more than 6,000 tablets, have been intercepted at the border since January. All have been referred to the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) for assessment.
Hydroxychloroquine is a prescription-only drug used in the treatment of malaria and certain auto-immune diseases. The TGA has warned that hydroxychloroquine poses serious risks to patients, including cardiac toxicity (potentially leading to sudden heart attacks), irreversible eye damage and severe depletion of blood sugar (potentially leading to coma).
The TGA issued an alert on 24 March 2020 advising medical professionals of increased restrictions when it came to prescribing hydroxychloroquine.
ABF Acting Commander Susan Drennan said the ABF continues to have a very strong presence at all international gateways, including mail, air and sea cargo environments, to identify and examine medical supplies, both import and export, during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“ABF officers are on the lookout for consignments of this drug, along with all other prohibited imports and exports. Anyone considering further unauthorised imports will be wasting their money,” Acting Commander Drennan said.
“Whether its individuals wanting to self-prescribe, or criminals aiming to sell the drug on the black market, our officers have the technology, skills and innovative processes to detect and disrupt their illegal importations of pharmaceuticals such as this.”