Investigation of cheap Botox 'sausage factory'

AUSTRALIA'S drug regulator is investigating a doctor alleged to be importing cheap, unapproved versions of the anti-wrinkle drug Botox - and injecting it into women at two Sydney clinics.

The investigation into Leo van den Heuvel, who works at Ultrasonic Slimming clinics in Paddington and Gladesville, was launched after a complaint from the Australasian College of Cosmetic Surgery.

The clinics and the doctor have strenuously denied the allegations.

A patient, Susie Driver, complained to the college after she developed thrush and a two-week headache after treatment in December. She had previously bought a voucher from the discount website Groupon to receive ''anti-wrinkle injections'' for $139.

According to the college, there is evidence suggesting Dr van den Heuvel has been buying cheap units through a Chinese website, tootoo.com. Its complaint to the Therapeutic Goods Administration claims charging $139 for the injections would mean a financial loss to the doctor, if the genuine product was being sold.

The clinic has advertised the deal extensively and, in a recent offer, Groupon said 650 vouchers had been sold.

Ms Driver said that when she redeemed the voucher she was told she would receive 30 units of Botox

over two facial areas, working out at $4.63 a unit. According to the college, in Australia genuine Botox costs a doctor about $5.67 a unit. Allowing for the doctor's costs and profit, it is then usually sold to the patient at about $13-15 a unit. The college said it would not be financially viable for doctors to offer Botox at less than $10 a unit.

Dr van den Heuvel said his product was genuine and he made no profit on the injections. The low price was to attract new clients. ''What we do is like a sausage factory,'' he said. ''What I do is exactly like in McDonald's. People come in and are out within five minutes.''

The US Food and Drug Administration has warned doctors and the public that unapproved botulinum toxin products may be unsafe or ineffective. Imported, untested and unapproved botulinum toxin can cause weakness, drooping eyelids, double vision, breathing difficulty and other dangerous side effects.

The complaint from college president Colin Moore said:

''According to information provided to the college, Dr van den Heuvel may be injecting as many as 50 patients per day, thus potentially exposing thousands of Australians to serious harm.''

Documents from 2010 show a buyer using the name Dr Leo van der Heuvel inquiring to a foreign website about the cost of the drug. The buyer uses Dr van der Heuvel's mobile number and the address of a clinic where he is a GP.

He denied ordering products from overseas and said he was not responsible for the online requests bearing his name. ''The internet is a big place,'' he said.

Ms Driver said she was told Botox would be used in the injections.

The Gladesville clinic eventually refunded the price of Ms Driver's voucher.

The clinic owner strongly denied any wrongdoing. She said the clinic had never received any complaints about the injections, which were genuine. Dr van den Heuvel said he never received complaints.

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