L.A. Task Force, FDA Indict 17 Illegal Pharmacy Operators
A Los Angeles federal grand jury yesterday indicted 17 people for operating illegal pharmacies and clinics in San Fernando Valley and Orange County, the latest move in local authorites' two-year "uphill battle" against illegal prescription sales, the Los Angeles Times reports. The Los Angeles Health Authority Law Enforcement Task Force, which includes comprises LAPD, county sheriff's deputies and state health investigators, has raided nearly 200 illegal pharmacies since 1998. In the latest round of indictments, the defendants were charged with "offenses ranging from violating the federal Food and Drug Act to receiving smuggled goods and possession of controlled substances." The indictments targeted two black market rings operating in Los Angeles and Orange counties, according to U.S. Attorney Alejandro Mayorkas. According to affidavits, unlicensed personnel at black market clinics "falsely identified themselves as doctors, diagnosed a customer's medical problem and then prescribed a medication." Two such customers -- an 18-month-old girl and a 15-year-old boy -- died from drugs administered at these clinics (Rosenzweig, Los Angeles Times, 12/6). All of the indictments relate to drugs "allegedly" smuggled from Mexico, the AP/Contra Costa Times reports.
Illegal pharmacies "thrive" in Latin American immigrant communities, "where many can't afford professional care, lack health insurance or fear deportation if they go to a hospital." Mayorkas said, "Immigrants should be aware that these clinics offer a dangerous brew that may harm your health and the health of your family" (Chavez, AP/Contra Costa Times, 12/6). Hoping to allay immigrants' fears, Mayorkas added, "There are safe and legal clinics available ... regardless of ... immigration status." Orange County also has addressed the issue by creating a task force to educate Mexican and Central American immigrants about using "low-cost health clinics instead of patronizing back-room establishments" (Los Angeles Times, 12/6).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.