L.A. County Law Enforcement Targets Illegal Pharmaceutical Sales
Since forming two years ago to target illegal prescription drug sales, Los Angeles' seven-member Health Authority Law Enforcement Task Force has seized an estimated $5 million in illicit "antibiotics, contraceptives, anti-inflammatory medicines and steroids," the Los Angeles Times reports. LAPD, county sheriff's deputies and state health officials comprise the task force. Using drugs smuggled from places like Mexico, shopkeepers and merchants sell pharmaceuticals in "heavily Latino, Asian and Russian immigrant communities" in meat markets, convenience stores, gift shops, clothing stores and swap meets. Because of the task force's successful raids and seizures, officials have seen the price of drugs rise as the market goes further "underground." Shop owners once displayed drugs on store shelves, but now they are kept in "small quantities" hidden away in purses, shoe boxes, and car trunks. In addition, the task force has confiscated drugs that have been banned by the FDA because of serious side effects.
The task force also has encountered difficulty enforcing prescription drug laws because many of the illegal sellers come from countries where dispensing medicine does not require a doctor's prescription. Some illegal sellers "claim ignorance of U.S drug laws." In addition, buyers usually are immigrants who cannot afford to visit a licensed physician or are "leery" of government clinics of hospitals because they are illegal residents. But by not consulting a doctor, customers "run the risk" of combining medications that can be fatal, the Times reports. Despite the task force's seizures and arrests, Don Ashton, a state health officer who leads the task force, said the problem will persist. "It will always be there until we can educate the public that there are safer alternatives," he added (Los Angeles Times, 12/5).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.