STOREFRONT CLINICS: County Raids Draw Immigrant Ire
Los Angeles County officials have "arrested about 50 shopkeepers in the last six weeks" who illegally sell prescription drugs to immigrants, the Los Angeles Times reports. County officials says these "crackdowns" are necessary to curb "a vast network of underground health care providers," but the prosecutions are drawing "fire from some in the Latino community" who see the prosecutions as "unfair targeting of customers who have no other access to health care products." The Times reports that many customers of these "storefront clinics" are illegal immigrants who "are afraid to return to Mexico where they would have been able to purchase those pharmaceuticals without a prescription in one of Tijuana's many farmacias." Latinos have complained to county supervisors "that they have shopped -- happily and safely -- at some [storefront clinics] for 20 years or more." Others note that it is a "cultural thing." Miguel Santana, assistant chief deputy for County Supervisor Gloria Molina, said, "Not only among Latinos, but in many other counties, people go to the pharmacist for drugs."
But "[f]ar from backing off," the Times reports that "the county is lobbying hard to extend its authority over" the storefront clinics. Molina "has succeeded in persuading" Assemblyman Martin Gallegos (D-Baldwin Park) "to introduce emergency legislation" that would "make selling the drugs a felony" and would "give the county the authority to shut down businesses" rather than having to defer to the state. "We discovered that we had more control over a place that sold bad food than over a place that sells illegal drugs," said county health director Mark Finucane. At a Tuesday news conference for the bill Finucane noted that "two people had died within the last year as a result of improper treatment at clinics that sold drugs illegally in Los Angeles and Orange counties."
The Times reports that the county is launching "an educational campaign" to reach out to the Latino community, warning them of "the dangers of taking prescription drugs without the oversight of a physician." The county is also extending "the hours of its walk-in clinic at the Roybal Comprehensive Health Center" and is encouraging uninsured residents "to go there for examinations and prescriptions." The Times notes, however, that "reducing the reliance on [storefront clinics] in an age when legitimate medical care is hard to obtain -- and even many American prescription drugs are becoming available over the counter -- promises to be difficult" (Bernstein, 7/29). Click storefront to read California Healthline's coverage of the unlicensed clinics.