Dublin mum fined for selling slimming tablets

Lydia McCarthy
Lydia McCarthy

Mum-of-two Lydia McCarthy, with an address at Alexandra Place, East Road, East Wall, was fined €3,000 by Judge John O'Neill at Dublin District Court.

Judge O'Neill heard she had ordered thousands of “Reduce” slimming pills, which contained an active ingredient that has been withdrawn from markets due to links to strokes and heart problems.

The court heard McCarthy, who pleaded guilty to 16 counts of breaking medicinal products regulations, also had to have her appendix removed as a direct result of her addiction to the slimming pills which she was selling.

She was caught following an investigation by the Health Products Regulatory Authority (HPRA), formerly known as the Irish Medicines Board, after a package addressed to her was intercepted.

Prosecuting solicitor Ronan O'Neill told the court the offences can result in maximum €2,000 fines on each charge as well as a 12-month prison sentence.

He said the offences related to the unlawful importation, advertising, supply and distribution of a once prescription-only slimming medicine which is no longer allowed to be sold in Ireland.

In evidence Brenda Kirby, an enforcement officer with the HPRA, told the court that on September 7, 2012, a package containing 1,200 Reduce tablets was detained at An Post's Portlaoise depot. The pills were analysed and found to contain Sibutramine, a substance which was withdrawn from EU and US markets because of safety concerns.

Ms Kirby said the woman's home was later searched and another package containing 360 of the capsules was found. It was addressed to another person, the court heard.

When questioned, McCarthy admitted placing adverts on four websites: Donedeal, On-and-gone, Gumtree and Dublin online, offering boxes of the tablets at €70 each. Three witnesses admitted buying from her and that the money was paid into a bank account.

In April 2013, another package was stopped and it was found to contain 100 Reduce tablets. The mother-of-two was interviewed again and claimed they were for her own use. Her laptop with her email records was examined and showed that 2,900 capsules had been ordered.

McCarthy was advertising them for sale in boxes of 30, priced at €70 each.

It was estimated that her profit was €5,300.

Judge O'Neill was also furnished with a report from the HPRA's in-house expert Dr John Michael Morris setting out the health risks of the ingredient found in the tablets.

The products, bought from a manufacturer in India, were not authorised for sale in Ireland. Possible side effects of Sibutramine ranged from insomnia and headaches to more serious problems including strokes and cardiovascular events.

Before it was withdrawn from market its use was only through prescription and under supervision of a doctor.

The defence said McCarthy had started using the tablets and lost two stone; she was pleased with the results and “spread the word” to friends. However, Ms Kirby said that other individuals from different parts of the country also bought them from her.

Ms Kirby also said there was no way of verifying McCarthy's claim her profit was less than the estimate given in court because she had given some of the products to her friends at face value. The enforcement officer also said she based her calculation on emails and orders the woman received.

McCarthy's counsel said that although adverts were placed on a number of websites she only got responses through the Gumtree website.

She had not been aware of the risks associated with the products and the implications of using them only became clear to her a year later, Judge O'Neill was told.

In pleas for leniency, the defence asked the judge to note that she had become addicted to the pills and later had to have her appendix removed which was direct result of using the banned medicine.

The court has also heard she is remorseful and has begun contributing towards prosecution costs which came to €3,250. However she on social welfare and of limited means and has paid €1,100 so far.

Judge O'Neill noted her co-operation with the investigation, her financial circumstances and the guilty plea which saved the court time.

He convicted her, imposed fines totalling €3,000 and also said she must continue pay the balance of the prosecution's outstanding costs within six months. He said that if she is having difficulty in coming up with the money during that period she can apply to the court for more time.