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Japan warns against use of unauthorized COVID-19 drugs


An increasing number of people in Japan are taking imported COVID-19 drugs that are not authorized for use in the country, prompting public health officials to issue a warning against taking such medicine.

Side effects from unauthorized medicines may not be compensated for by the government, the health ministry warned.

A woman in her 40s in Shizuoka Prefecture is among those who have imported such drugs. She took ivermectin, an antiparasitic drug produced by an Indian company that is not approved for treating COVID-19 in Japan.

She ordered the drug through an import agent after doing her own research, including by reading papers available from 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 a prescription.

“Many clients ordering medicine 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 treatment for COVID-19, and the HIV treatment lopinavir were previously popular among people looking for treatment. But the World Health Organization did not find any evidence that they can be used to treat COVID-19.

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.

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