Doctor suspended for 10 months for overprescribing sleeping pills

SINGAPORE – A doctor has been suspended for 10 months for the overprescription of sleeping pills such as Dormicum.

He had originally been suspended for 20 months by a Singapore Medical Council’s (SMC) disciplinary tribunal. But the sentence was halved because of the six years it took for the case to be resolved.

Dr Eugene Ung’s overprescription of these addictive drugs was discovered during an audit by the Ministry of Health (MOH) in March 2015.

The ministry informed the SMC of its concern in June that year. The SMC started proceedings against the doctor the following month.

The doctor faced 22 charges of professional misconduct for “the inappropriate prescription of benzodiazepines and other hypnotics (sleeping pills) to 13 patients between January 2012 and March 2015, and inadequate medical record-keeping for nine of these patients”.

Dr Ung pleaded guilty to all the charges.

The publication of the grounds of decision by the SMC did not name the clinic where Dr Ung was practising when he inappropriately prescribed such drugs.

Among other things, these drugs are used to treat insomnia, schizophrenia, depression and anxiety. Long-term use is not recommended for insomnia or anxiety problems.

The patients involved were given the drugs over long periods – in some cases, three years or more. In many of the cases, their medical records do not contain the indications or justifications for such prescriptions.

Because these are controlled drugs, such justification is needed for every prescription. This is because improper or long-term use can lead to addiction.

According to the MOH, withdrawal symptoms such as anxiety, perceptual disturbances and tremors may develop upon cessation of benzodiazepine use.

The tribunal found that several patients had likely become addicted to the drugs. In spite of that, Dr Ung continued prescribing them. The prescriptions given were sufficient for daily use.

The drugs in question included Alprazolam, Lorazepam, Diazepam, Librax, Zolpidem and Zopiclone, which were prescribed either alone or in various combinations.

Aside from the suspension, Dr Ung was censured and required to give a written undertaking not to reoffend. He also has to pay the cost of the proceedings.

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