Exclusive: Rise in illegally imported antibiotics has NZ medical industry concerned

Illegally imported antibiotics are a growing trend which has New Zealand authorities and the medical industry worried.

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New figures obtained by 1 NEWS have the medical industry worried and calling for authorities to step in. Source: 1 NEWS

New figures obtained by 1 NEWS show the number of illegally imported antibiotics seized at the border is rising, and authorities are trying to track the demand.

In 2013, more than 1400 antibiotics were intercepted and by 2017 that number had surpassed 1700.

Derek Fitzgerald, Medsafe Compliance Manager, says the phenomenon is a concern.

"People shouldn't be getting antibiotics without a prescription from a New Zealand doctor who has properly diagnosed that the patient or recipient has an infection. There's also an issue with antibiotic resistance," he said.

It's illegal to bring any prescription medicine into the country without authorisation. More than 85 per cent of antibiotics that enter New Zealand through the International Mail Centre are seized and then destroyed.

The penalty for not having a prescription is up to three months in jail or a fine of up to $500.

No prosecutions have been made but recipients of the antibiotics are sent a letter asking a doctor to sign for the medicine. If there is no reply within 30 days, it's destroyed.

Doctor Kate Baddock, Chair of the New Zealand Medical Association, says there needs to be more investigation.

"We certainly need to dig deeper about why people might be doing this. But whatever the reason it's good to see they are being stopped at the border. It's good to see they are being destroyed and that they are not actually coming into the country," she said.