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Chinese doctor in Taichung suspended for prescribing drug containing poisonous metals

A doctor at a Taichung-based traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) clinic has been suspended for prescribing drugs containing heavy metals that led to lead poisoning in at least nine patients.

The city's Health Bureau has suspended the Sheng Tang Chinese Medicine Clinic's chief practitioner Lu Shih-ming for 30 days for giving patients medicines with excessive levels of lead, said bureau director Tseng Tzu-chan at a press event.

Lu was also fined NT$100,000 (US$3,000) for not recording the parts of the prescriptions containing heavy metals in the patients' medical records, in violation of the Physicians Act, according to Tseng.

The case has been handed over to the Taichung District Prosecutors Office for further investigation, and Lu could face a maximum NT$500,000 fine for the incomplete patient records.

If the investigation reveals more serious violations of the Act, including confirmation that he harmed his patients and gave them toxic medicines, Lu could have his license revoked and face criminal liability.

The problem drugs involve those paid for by the patients because they were not covered by the National Health Insurance system, making it easier for him to leave them out of patient records.

Tseng said Lu admitted that he included powder of the mineral cinnabar, which contains lead, in the prescriptions given to some of his patients but stressed that it was done by mistake rather than intentionally.

Taiwanese law bans the use of cinnabar powder in TMC and stipulates that the total heavy metal content of TCMs should not exceed 30 ppm, according to the bureau.

The latest test results have shown, however, that the level of lead in some of the problem powders Lu gave to patients reached 15,281 ppm, more than 500 times the maximum allowed level. An ongoing investigation has found that at least nine of Lu's patients took the toxic drugs, according to the bureau.

The bureau is now trying to determine if more of Lu's patients have had symptoms of lead poisoning, which can include abdominal pain, anemia, and nerve and liver damage, and offered to help them sue Lu if they wished to do so. It is also urging patients who have developed related symptoms to see a doctor for further checkups. (By CNA)

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