A court has ordered two traditional Chinese medicine practitioners and one medicine dealer based in Taichung to be detained and held incommunicado for their part in a heavy metal poisoning case that has left at least eight people ill.
The Taichung District Court granted a request by prosecutors to detain Sheng Tang Chinese Medicine Clinic chief practitioner Lu Shih-ming (呂世明), Jin Fu Chinese Medicine Clinic practitioner Hung Chang-hung (洪彰宏), and Ou Kuo-liang (歐國樑), head of the Hsin Lung Medicine Co. The trio are suspected of violating pharmaceutical laws because of their involvement in the lead poisoning of at least eight people, including former Taichung City Council Speaker Chang Hung-nien (張宏年), his wife, his son, and his daughter, the court ruled.
It said the trio had to be detained because they could destroy or falsify evidence or collude with each other to falsify testimony were they to be released.
According to the court ruling, Lu and Hung are suspected of prescribing banned drugs while Ou supplied them. The high-profile case emerged after Chang's son, Taichung City Councilor Chang Yen-tung (張彥彤), told reporters last Friday that he was hospitalized for a month after being diagnosed with lead and mercury poisoning.
His father, sister and mother were also diagnosed with lead poisoning after complaining of abdominal pain, Chang Yen-tung said, pointing to the more than 300 micrograms (μg) of lead detected in his father's blood, far higher than the common level of 10 μg. Chang Yen-tung said Thursday he has filed a complaint with prosecutors against Lu for attempted murder because his father, who is still being treated at a hospital, was diagnosed with brain damage and might need kidney dialysis to save his life. He also intends to file a suit for compensation.
The Chang family had been taking traditional Chinese medicine prescribed by Lu for a long period of time, but when tested, some of the ingredients in the medicine were found to have excessive levels of lead and mercury. Meanwhile, a four-member family from Changhua County reported having high levels of heavy metals in their blood to the Taichung City Health Bureau and accused the Jiu Fu clinic of using banned drugs on them.
On Thursday, the Taichung District Prosecutors Office launched a search along with police and city health officials of the Sheng Tang and Jiu Fu clinics and Hsin Lung, which was found to be supplying problematic Chinese medicine ingredients to the clinics.
Prosecutors said the two clinics had asked their patients to return prescribed medicines, claiming they were incorrectly prescribed, and exchange them for the right ones. "It is obvious [they] tried to destroy the evidence," prosecutors said in a statement on the case.
Furthermore, the two clinics were both found to have not recorded the symptoms and medications they prescribed patients, which is also against the law, prosecutors said. The incident has snowballed since last week, with a growing number of people getting checked for heavy metals in their blood at city-designated hospitals.
As of Thursday, 12 of 60 people getting checked were found to have excessive amounts of heavy metals in their blood, according to the city health bureau.