Tokyo, Feb. 21 (Jiji Press)–An increasing number of people in Japan are taking imported COVID-19 drugs that are not authorized for use in the country, a practice that draws a warning from public health officials.
The health ministry is warning people against taking such drugs without careful consideration because side effects from unauthorized medicines may not be covered by government relief.
In November, a woman in her 40s in Shizuoka Prefecture took ivermectin, an antiparasitic drug produced by an Indian company and is not approved as a COVID-19 treatment in Japan.
She ordered the drug through an import agent after collecting information including by reading research papers available at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“I bought it as I thought that I had to take it, at my own risk, to prevent infection,” she said.
Japan’s Kitasato Institute has been conducting a clinical trial to determine the efficacy of ivermectin in treating COVID-19.
There are several unauthorized medicines, including ivermectin, that have been ordered by people in Japan to protect against the coronavirus, an import agent said.
This is apparently because the use of remdesivir and dexamethasone, drugs approved by Japanese regulators to treat COVID-19, requires prescriptions from doctors.
“Many of clients ordering medicines to treat COVID-19 are those in their 50s and 60s, who are at higher risk of developing severe symptoms,” the agent said.
Hydroxychloroquine, a malaria drug once touted by former U.S. President Donald Trump as a COVID-19 treatment, and the HIV treatment lopinavir once proved popular among such people. But the World Health Organization did not find any efficacy of them in COVID-19 patients.
There are some foreign-based import agents touting unauthorized medicines as COVID-19 treatments in violation of the pharmaceutical and medical device law, which bans advertising of such drugs.
“Generally speaking, no one guarantees what’s inside imported medicines. It’s extremely dangerous to take them on one’s own judgment,” said an official of the ministry’s Tuberculosis and Infectious Diseases Control Division.