Black market cosmetic drugs flowing into Australia
Australians are risking their lives by getting cheap and illegal cosmetic procedures at dodgy beauty salons and back-alley clinics, health authorities have warned.
The ABC has obtained footage of several recent raids conducted by the New South Wales Health Department, in which officials seized hundreds of contraband drugs and treatments from law-breaking operations.
Some of the items seized included non-approved dermal fillers, topical anaesthetics, human placenta extract and medical-strength facial peels made in China and Japan.
NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard said the products were not registered for use in Australia and could be contaminated.
“You could end up disfigured, you could end up dead,” he said.
“It’s actually been horrifying. It’s far worse than what I could imagine as Health Minister.”
Authorities are intercepting increasingly large shipments of the black-market items, according to Bruce Battye, who is NSW Health’s deputy chief pharmacist.
“These are not coming in in someone’s handbag. These are coming in in bulk,” Mr Battye said.
“They’re coming in by import — truckloads of the stuff.”
New South Wales, Queensland and Victoria have cracked down on cosmetic surgery providers in recent years after several patients suffered life-threatening complications.
However, authorities believe back-alley clinics pose a far greater threat to patient safety.
Rotten noses, paralysed calves and burnt faces
Dr Cath Porter from the Cosmetic Physicians College of Australasia said many people wrongly believed cosmetic injections were low risk.
“There has been a case of blindness in Victoria, and there has also been a case of skin necrosis — or loss of skin tissue — to a woman’s nose following filler injections,” she said.
“Both were done by these fly-in, fly-out medical professionals who have not been registered with the Australian Health Practitioner Regulatory Authority.”
Several cosmetic surgeons told the ABC they had had increasing numbers of patients come to them for help after botched operations at secret, unlicensed facilities.
The doctors were too scared to go on the record because they feared reprisals from illegal providers.
“I’ve treated women with burns and serious infections after visiting these places,” one Sydney-based cosmetic surgeon told the ABC.
The ABC understands one Sydney provider, who has no Australian medical qualifications and works out of her apartment, offers botulinum injections in calves to streamline the legs.
“I see her patients hobbling around because she’s effectively paralysed their calves,” another cosmetic surgeon said.
Many patients are reluctant to report problems to health authorities, and those who do come forward are often too late.
“We have fly-in, fly-out, so-called experts coming in from Korea and China, who definitely don’t meet our medical requirements. And they can be in and out of the country before you know it,” Mr Hazzard said.
Dr Porter said many illegal clinics were run by and for Australians of Asian descent.
“People might want to see a person who speaks their own language, and who understands their particular aesthetic concerns,” she said.
Services are often advertised on social media platforms like WeChat.
NSW calls for national approach to prevent deaths
In August 2017, Sydney beauty clinic owner Jean Huang died after a botched breast procedure carried out by a Chinese nurse in Australia on a tourist visa.
The cause of her death is still being investigated, but a toxicology report tendered at court found large quantities of the painkiller tramadol in her system.
Mr Hazzard believes a national approach is needed to tackle illegal clinics, but it will ultimately come down to changing people’s attitudes to cosmetic procedures.
“These procedures are potentially dangerous,” he said.
“You could die, you could be disfigured, you could spend many, many thousands of dollars getting yourself back to the state you would like to be in.”